Gallbladder Removal Surgery (Cholecystectomy): Risks & Benefits

Gallbladder removal is a surgery to take out a small organ called the gallbladder. Another name for gallbladder removal is cholecystectomy.

If your gallbladder causes problems, you may have surgery to remove it. You may need to make some minor changes to your diet after a cholecystectomy. But you can live well without your gallbladder.

Gallbladder Removal Surgery

What is the gallbladder?

Your gallbladder is a small organ in the upper right part of your abdomen (belly). It looks like a small pouch and stores bile. Bile is the liquid your liver produces that helps to break down fats.

Who needs to have their gallbladder removed?

People who have gallstones may need gallbladder removal. Gallstones are small, pebble-like deposits that build up in your gallbladder. Gallstones are typically made of bile byproducts called cholesterol or bilirubin. The stones usually form because of an imbalance in the substances that create bile.

Some people don’t feel gallstones or know they have them. Sometimes, gallstones block the flow of bile and affect your pancreas (pancreatitis) or gallbladder (cholecystitis). You may have:

  • Abdominal pain, especially in the upper right part of your belly.
  • Jaundice (yellowish skin or yellowing in the whites of your eyes).
  • Nausea and vomiting.

Is gallbladder surgery the only treatment for gallstones?

Although there may be a chance that medications could be helpful, they haven’t been scientifically proven effective. Your provider may recommend surgery if your gallbladder causes you problems from gallstones. Depending on your general health, you may not need treatment if your gallstones don’t cause any symptoms.

What happens before gallbladder removal?

A few weeks before surgery, you meet with your healthcare provider. At this appointment, you may:

  • Get a blood test to make sure you're healthy enough for surgery.
  • Discuss what technique your surgeon will use and ask any questions.
  • Receive instructions about when to stop eating and drinking before your operation.
  • Talk about ways you can reduce your risk of postoperative complications, such as quitting smoking.

What are the types of gallbladder removal?

Your surgeon may use open surgery or laparoscopic surgery to remove your gallbladder. With open surgery, your surgeon operates through one large incision. During laparoscopic surgery, your surgeon operates through a few small incisions. Laparoscopic surgery can lead to faster recovery, less pain and small scars.

Your surgeon may recommend open surgery if you can’t have laparoscopic surgery. For example, if you have a lot of scar tissue on your abdomen, your surgeon may need to use an open technique. Sometimes, your surgeon may need to turn a laparoscopic surgery into an open one to see more clearly and remove your gallbladder safely.

What happens during open cholecystectomy?

During an open cholecystectomy, your surgeon:

  • Makes one incision underneath your ribs.
  • Uses surgical tools to remove your gallbladder.
  • Closes the incision with stitches.

What happens during laparoscopic cholecystectomy?

During a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, your surgeon:

  • Makes a small incision near your belly button and two to three incisions in the top right part of your abdomen.
  • Inserts a small tube with carbon dioxide to inflate your abdomen. This inflation offers easier access to your gallbladder.
  • Uses a laparoscope (a small tool with a camera and light) to project an image of the inside of your abdomen onto a large screen.
  • Removes your gallbladder by inserting small surgical tools through the incisions.
  • Releases the gas from your abdomen and closes the incisions with stitches.

What happens after gallbladder removal?

After laparoscopic gallbladder removal, you usually return home the same day. You may have to stay in the hospital for a day or two after open surgery.

Someone needs to drive you home after gallbladder removal surgery. If you return home the same day as the operation, you should have someone stay with you for 24 hours.

Do I need to change my diet after gallbladder removal?

Although your gallbladder is not essential, it helps you digest fatty foods. Immediately after gallbladder removal, you’ll need to avoid fatty and fried foods.

To avoid discomfort, fat calories after surgery should make up no more than 30% of your diet. In the weeks after surgery, reintroduce high-fiber foods slowly. Whole grains, nuts, seeds and vegetables may cause severe bloating or gas if you eat too much too quickly.

What are the risks or complications of cholecystectomy?

You can live a healthy life without your gallbladder. Most people don’t have long-term side effects of cholecystectomy. Like any other surgery, gallbladder removal carries some risks of bleeding or infection.

What are the gallbladder removal side effects?

After gallbladder removal, you may have temporary side effects. For a few days, you might notice:

  • Bloating, diarrhea or gas.
  • Bruising or swelling near the incision site.
  • Fatigue.
  • Mood swings or irritability.
  • Nausea or upset stomach.
  • Pain in your shoulders or abdomen from the gas used to inflate your abdomen.

Does my digestive system still work after cholecystectomy?

Yes. After the operation, your digestive system can still function. Your liver still makes bile so you can digest food. Instead of staying in your gallbladder, the bile drips directly into your digestive system. Most people can resume their usual diet once they recover from gallbladder surgery.

What is the recovery time after gallbladder removal?

After open gallbladder removal, recovery typically takes around six to eight weeks. Recovery from laparoscopic gallbladder removal typically takes around two weeks.

When can I return to work after gallbladder removal?

Most people can drive and return to desk jobs within a week or two. If your job involves physical work or hours on your feet, speak with your healthcare provider. You may need to stay home from work or modify your routine for up to eight weeks.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

See your healthcare provider right away if you experience:

  • Discharge or redness at your incision site.
  • Fever above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Pale stools or dark urine.
  • Persistent nausea or vomiting.
  • Severe or increasing pain.
  • Swelling that doesn’t go away.
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