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Laser Technology Helps Remove Gallstones

About one in ten people suffer from gallstones. And removing them can get tricky, depending on their size. But new laser technology has become a helpful solution.

It's an inside look at the common bile duct, the place a gallstone hides. For one woman, it's a place that's caused her severe pain. She had her gallbladder removed this summer at a facility in another state. But doctors couldn't get to a very large stone until today.

"It's electric impulses that basically shock the stone and cause it to shatter," Sanford Health Gastroenterologist Dr. Philip Tanner said.

The procedure is called spyglass technology. A burst of laser light breaks up the gallstone.

Tanner says until now, it was a struggle to remove very large stones, which could get as big as a golf ball. But by essentially zapping it apart, the smaller pieces can be more easily removed.

Without it, this patient would be in the hospital.

"The next thing that would be required is that she would need to go to the operating room for a large operation called a common bile duct exploration," Tanner said.

And that would mean a large incision, spending 7 to 10 days in the hospital and having a tube inserted to drain fluids.

But this procedure is much less invasive. A scope passes through the mouth so there's no incision and recovery time spent at home is minimal.

Tanner says if the gallstone was left in the common bile duct, it would have increased the patient's risk for pancreatitis. This technology is fairly new at Sanford, with only 12 patients undergoing the procedure.

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