Most patients who require emergency gallbladder surgery are easily identified, but some present more of a challenge, the researchers noted.
The researchers analyzed data from more than 3,000 patients with abdominal pain who went to the emergency department at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and underwent gallbladder surgery within 30 days.
Of those patients, more than 1,600 had emergency gallbladder surgery and about 1,500 were sent home and told to book surgery at a later date. Of those sent home, 20 percent returned to the ER within a month and had emergency gallbladder surgery. And, 55 percent of that group was back for emergency surgery within a week of their first ER visit, the findings showed.
Younger people without any other health problems and older people with other health issues were more likely than people in their 40s and 50s to return for emergency surgery within a month.
This suggests that younger and older patients, as well as those with other health problems, who arrive at the ER with abdominal pain may require a second look before they are sent home, the Mayo Clinic researchers said.
The study appears in the Journal of Surgical Research.
"It makes a big difference if you get the right treatment at the right time," co-lead author Dr. Juliane Bingener-Casey, a gastroenterologic surgeon, said in a Mayo Clinic news release.
"Gallbladder disease is very frequent and it's one of the most expensive diseases for the nation as a whole. If we can get that right the first time, I think we can make things better for a lot of people," she noted.
Each year in the United States, more than one million people are hospitalized for gallstone disease, and the fatty food common in Americans' diets is a contributing factor, according to Bingener-Casey.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about gallbladder diseases.