Gallbladder Surgery

Gallbladder Surgery (Cholecystectomy)

A cholecystectomy is a surgical procedure to remove your gallbladder. The gallbladder is the pear- or pouch-shaped organ that is just below your liver on the upper right side of your abdomen. The function of the gallbladder is to collect and store bile (digestive fluid produced in the liver).

Cholecystectomy is a low-risk, common surgery, and mostly one can even go back home the same day of the surgery. The procedure is most commonly performed by inserting a tiny video camera and special surgical tools through four small incisions, which see inside the abdomen and remove the gallbladder. 

Why does the gallbladder need surgery?

Cholecystectomy is usually recommended, when one has:

  • Gallstones in the gallbladder (cholelithiasis)
  • Gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis)
  • Gallstones in the bile duct (choledocholithiasis)
  • Pancreas inflammation (pancreatitis) due to gallstones
  • Large gallbladder polyps

Very rarely, it may be possible to dissolve gallstones by medications. However, surgery has been known to be the most effective treatment in maximum cases.

How will I know if I have gallbladder stones?

Stones in gallbladder mostly form due to an imbalance in the substances that make up bile. Usually, gallstones have no symptoms and you may not realise you have them, but occasionally they can block the flow of bile and irritate the gallbladder (acute cholecystitis) or pancreas (acute pancreatitis).

There can be symptoms like:

  • Sudden and intense stomach ache
  • Feeling/being sick
  • Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice)

What is acute cholecystitis?

Acute cholecystitis is the inflammation of the gallbladder. It happens when a gallstone blocks the cystic duct. It is known to be potentially serious due to the risk of complications. The main symptom is sudden, sharp pain in the upper right hand side of the abdomen, which spreads towards the right shoulder, and does not go away in few hours.

Additional symptoms include:

  • High fever
  • Feeling/being sick
  • Sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Bulge in the abdomen

Calculous cholecystitis

Is the most common, mostly less serious and accounts for around 95% of all cases. It develops when the main opening to the gallbladder, the cystic duct, gets blocked by a gallstone or a substance known as biliary sludge.

Acalculous cholecystitis

Is less common, but usually more serious type of acute cholecystitis. It usually develops as a complication of accidental damage to the gallbladder during major surgery, serious injuries or burns, sepsis, severe malnutrition or HIV/AIDS.

What are the types of gallbladder removal surgeries?

Gallbladder surgery can be done in two ways:

Laparoscopic (keyhole) cholecystectomy

This surgery involves several small cuts (incisions) in your abdomen and fine surgical instruments are used to access and remove your gallbladder

Open cholecystectomy

Under this, a single larger incision is made in your abdomen to access and remove your gallbladder.

Keyhole surgery is the most-used surgery, as it helps you to leave the hospital sooner, recover faster and there are smaller scars, as compared to the open procedure. Both the surgeries are done under general anaesthetic. Thus, you will be asleep during the surgeries and will not feel any pain during the procedure.

Recovering from gallbladder removal surgery

It usually does not take long to recover from keyhole surgery.

Most people can leave hospital the same day or the next morning. You can probably even return to most of your normal activities within two weeks. It takes longer to recover from open surgery.

You may need to stay in hospital for 3-5 days and it could be 6-8 weeks before you can go back to normal activities. Your surgeon will be the best person to advise you on which type of surgery will suit your condition the most.

Can I live without a gallbladder?

Yes. You can lead a perfectly normal life. Your liver can make enough bile to digest your food. Only difference being, instead of getting stored in the gallbladder, it will drip continuously into your digestive system.

Even if you would have been suggested to eat a special diet before surgery, this does not need to be continued afterwards.

What are the risks of a gallbladder removal surgery?

Gallbladder removal surgery is considered to be a low-risk and safe procedure. However, possible complications can be:

  • Bile leaking into the abdomen
  • Wound infection
  • Blood clots
  • Damage to one of the openings (ducts) carrying bile out of the liver
  • Some people may have issues like bloating or diarrhoea after surgery, which improves within a few weeks

You can speak to your surgeon/hospital about the risks and acquire more information.

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