Medical News Today: What to know about gallbladder removal

By | November 8, 2018
A person may require gallbladder removal surgery if the inflammation and pain from gallstones and related issues do not subside with other treatments.

It is a relatively common and safe procedure, although there are some possible risks and side effects.

In this article, learn about the different types of gallbladder removal surgery, what to expect during the procedure, and the recovery process.

What is gallbladder removal used for?

Surgeons performing operation in masks and gowns
Gallbladder removal is a relatively low-risk procedure.

The gallbladder sits just below the liver on the upper right side of the abdomen. It is a small, pear-shaped, pouch-like organ that stores and releases bile.

Bile is a digestive fluid that the liver creates to help the body digest fats.

If people have too much of a liver pigment called bilirubin in the bile or excess cholesterol, they may experience gallbladder problems, such as:

In cases where these symptoms do not subside but instead become too uncomfortable to manage or interfere with everyday life, gallbladder removal surgery may be necessary.

Gallbladder removal is a relatively common and straightforward procedure. It is possible to live a healthy life without a gallbladder.

Procedure

The medical term for gallbladder removal surgery is cholecystectomy. It is a low-risk, standard surgical procedure that may provide relief to those experiencing pain from gallstones.

Doctors usually perform a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, which is less invasive than other techniques. To remove the gallbladder, they make precise incisions through which they insert a tiny video camera and special surgical tools.

Laparoscopic procedures allow doctors to see and work inside the abdomen without making a large cut, which reduces both the risk of infection and the recovery time.

In some cases, a person may need an open cholecystectomy, which requires a large incision to allow doctors to see directly into the abdomen.

Recovery

The recovery process varies depending on the type of surgery.

In all cases, a medical team will provide aftercare instructions on taking care of the wound and watching out for infection. It is essential not to take a shower for 1 or 2 days following surgery.

Recovery from laparoscopic surgery

Woman relaxing and resting on sofa watching tv with partner on tablet.
A person should rest after gallbladder removal surgery.

After a laparoscopic procedure, most people can leave the hospital on the same day as the surgery. Occasionally, they might need to spend the first night in the hospital.

Someone else will need to drive the individual home after surgery or accompany them in a taxi.

It is important to rest and avoid strenuous activities for up to 2 weeks. It may take 1 or 2 weeks before a person feels “normal” and able to resume their usual activities.

Recovery from open surgery

Recovery from open surgery takes longer. A person can expect to stay in the hospital for 3 to 5 days after their operation. Hospitals require someone to pick the person up to drive them home or take a taxi with them.

It can take as many as 6 to 8 weeks to make a complete recovery and return to normal activities.

Side effects and complications

Although gallbladder surgery is relatively common and safe, there are some possible side effects and complications.

Some potential issues may include:

  • reactions to the anesthesia
  • an infection
  • bleeding
  • swelling
  • bile leakage
  • damage to a bile duct
  • damage to the intestine, bowel, or blood vessels
  • deep vein thrombosis, or blood clots
  • heart problems
  • pneumonia

There is also a risk of postcholecystectomy syndrome (PCS), which develops if any gallstones remain in the bile duct. It may also occur if bile leaks into the stomach.

The symptoms of PCS are similar to those of gallstones and include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and heartburn.

Anyone who notices any of the following symptoms after gallstone removal surgery should visit a doctor:

  • pain that does not get better over time or gets worse
  • new abdominal pain
  • intense nausea or vomiting
  • an inability to pass gas or have a bowel movement
  • ongoing diarrhea
  • yellowing of the skin, called jaundice

Diet

Bowl of vegetable soup
A bland diet with simple vegetables is usually suitable during recovery.

After gallbladder removal surgery, a doctor may recommend either a liquid diet or a bland diet for the first day or several days. A person can then start slowly adding their usual foods back into their diet.

It is best to start with simple vegetables and fruits and to limit overly spicy, salty, sweet, or fatty foods.

While fiber is essential for good digestion, even after surgery, it is a good idea to begin with healthful sources that include whole grains, nuts, seeds, high-fiber cereal, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.

Outlook

Gallbladder removal is quite a common and safe procedure. However, as with all surgical procedures, there are some risks and possible side effects.

It is essential to follow the doctor’s post-surgery instructions. Being aware of the symptoms of an infection or other complications can help a person get treatment quickly to reduce any adverse effects.

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