Gallbladder Removal

Why Would I Need My Gallbladder Removed?

If the results of a gallbladder ultrasound or gallbladder scan show that a patient has gallstones or inflammation of gallbladder tissue, surgery may be necessary for treatment. Although surgery is often turned to only as a last resort, having the whole gallbladder removed is the only way to ensure effective treatment of gallbladder disease. While minor changes to one’s diet and lifestyle may temporarily relieve a patient’s symptoms—gallstones will not go away naturally. Having the entire gall bladder removed does not greatly affect the body’s ability to digest food.

What Happens During Gallbladder Surgery?

Although open gallbladder surgery does exist, it is much more common these days to undergo a laparoscopic gallbladder removal, also known as laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Laparoscopic surgery requires a smaller incision, results in less post-procedural pain and has a reportedly quicker recovery time. The procedure is commonly performed in the United States.

While the patient is thoroughly sedated under general anesthesia, the surgeon will use a small tubular tool called a cannula to enter the body through the patient’s belly button. A laparoscope—or a small telescope-like device—is inserted into the incision so that the surgeon can see inside the body from a television screen. Sometimes multiple cannula devices are inserted and used to carefully cut around the gallbladder and then remove it completely through one of the incisions in the abdomen. If the surgeon finds gallstones during the surgery, he or she may use another scope device to remove them on the spot—or another, less invasive removal procedure might be ordered later. Any incisions made during the surgery will be stitched up and held close with surgical tape after the procedure.

What Are the Risks Associated with Gallbladder Surgery?

Unfortunately, laparoscopic gallbladder removal is not an option for every patient. Those who suffer from obesity or who have scars on their abdomens leftover from a previous surgery may not be eligible. For these patients, the surgeon may have to perform open surgery so that better viewing and closer monitoring can be achieved during the procedure. Open surgery is not necessarily a bigger risk for the patient; the surgeon will ultimately decide which surgical route and may need to change course while the actual operation is happening.

It’s normal to feel nauseous and experience vomiting after undergoing gallbladder removal. Light daily activities can usually be resumed after a week, although it takes up to 6 weeks for a patient to participate in more vigorous activity and return to normal completely. Remember to contact the surgeon if you notice fever, severe pain, leakage from the incisions or any other serious complications. A follow-up exam will be necessary 2 weeks after the surgery. These symptoms could be a sign that bleeding, infection, bile leakage or other health problems have resulted from the gallbladder surgery—but these complications are largely uncommon.


Reviewed 12/29/2011 by David M. Nolan, M.D.
Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine, 2011
Currently a Fellow of Gastroenterology, at UCI 2011-2014