Would CT scan show gallstones?
August 8, 2008 10:12 AM   Subscribe

If I had a CT scan (on my bill, it says CT scan with contrast of abdomen and CT scan with contrast pelvic), would the doc be able to tell if I had gallstones? I went in with kidney infection symptoms, and he did CT scans to check for an abcess (thankfully, none was found). Because I presented with back pain, do you think the kidneys were the only thing he checked on CT?

Would gallstones be obvious on those scans? Thanks guys.
posted by muxnaw to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I had a CT scan of my kidneys, and the after reading the scan the doctor told me that my kidneys were fine but that I have gallstones. I've never had any symptoms from them or anything. So I assume they're pretty obvious, since the doctor wasn't looking for the. I didn't see the scans, though, so I don't really know.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:19 AM on August 8, 2008

My totally unmedical input is that, usually, they ultrasound for gallstones.
posted by Danf at 10:27 AM on August 8, 2008

Not gallstones, but my mom was recently hospitalized for high fever and severe abdominal pain. The CT scan was negative; it wasn't until they did an endoscopy (or whatever -scopy involves sending a tube down the throat) that they found that her bile duct was filled with stones.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:49 AM on August 8, 2008

"Would gallstones be obvious on those scans? "

They usually do an ultrasound, that was how they confirmed mine. A quick google says a CT Scan: "produces cross-section images of the body. The test may show the gallstones or complications, such as infection and rupture of the gallbladder or bile ducts."
posted by saturnine at 11:19 AM on August 8, 2008

From my experience with gallstones, they could show up on the scans, but the lack of visible stones on the scan doesn't mean that they're not there. Do you have other symptoms? Abdominal pain? Elevated liver enzymes?
posted by curie at 11:31 AM on August 8, 2008

curie- I'm probably being a bit paranoid. My mother just had her gallbladder out, and I learned of the prevalence of gallstones in my family. I have been nauseated for several days, and have a bit of pain in my upper back and upper quadrants of my abdomen- roughly around my ribcage. Some mild heartburn, symptoms do not get worse after eating at all. Have had symptoms for about a week, not getting better or worse. Nothing bad pain wise, just wondering since I recently had the CT scans if they would have been able to spot symptomatic stones.
posted by muxnaw at 12:00 PM on August 8, 2008

Most gallstones are mixed (calcium salts and cholesterol), so would show up on an xray/ct, some are purely calcium salts, so would be very visible, and of if they're purely cholesterol then they wouldn't, hence the need to confirm with ultrasound if the symptoms are pointing that way.

Kidney stones are the same way, calcium based ones show up on an xray, uric acid based ones don't.
posted by Static Vagabond at 2:47 PM on August 8, 2008

Actually most gallstones are isodense with bile, and as a result, they are poorly visualized by CT. CT can catch well-calcified stones but that is not the majority. It does have fair sensitivity in catching signs of inflammation around the gallbladder and so cholecystitis can often be suggested by a CT scan, though ultrasound remains the preferred imaging modality in that scenario as well.

For what it's worth, the transient or periodic symptoms of gallstones (biliary colic due to cholelithiasis), which aren't complicated by cholecystitis or cholangitis, are generally fairly easily distinguished from pyelonephritis or kidney infections.
posted by drpynchon at 4:14 PM on August 8, 2008

I had my gallbladder out last year. The CT scan showed large stones, but they told me 1) that lots of stones don't show on CT scans and 2) that even large stones may not necessarily be causing symptoms. They elected to do a HIDA scan, which measures gall bladder function. Mine was found to be completely inoperative. That's why they took it out. The stones weren't enough of a reason, at least with the surgeon I was seeing.

Might you ask your doc about a HIDA scan?
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 7:00 PM on August 8, 2008

I was told last year that I needed an ultrasound to test for gallstones. I'd already had a CT scan.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:48 PM on August 8, 2008

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