Gallbladder removal surgery, or cholecystectomy, is a standard procedure for gallstones. The gallbladder is a small organ that forms part of the digestive system but is not essential for survival. The removal of this organ can lead to weight loss, which people can manage through a healthful diet and regular exercise.
Gallstones can also cause blockages in the duct of the gallbladder and the duct between the liver and pancreas. These can lead to further complications, such as pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas.
The gallbladder stores bile, which is a substance that the liver produces. Bile breaks down fats for digestion. Without the gallbladder, the body cannot store as much bile, and it does not break down as much fat.
While the possible immediate adverse effects of surgery, such as diarrhea, may lead to weight loss in the short term, gallbladder removal may actually lead to a higher long-term body mass index (BMI).
In this article, we explain what causes these weight changes and how to manage them. We also cover other ways in which gallbladder removal can affect health.
Weight loss is common ahead of and after gallbladder removal. A doctor will request that people follow a low fat diet leading up to the surgery.
Directly following the procedure, side effects may include loss of appetite, nausea, and diarrhea.
However, it is essential to resume a regular, healthful diet after surgery. The safest ways to manage weight include:
- following a healthful, balanced diet
- engaging in regular physical activity
- eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy, lean proteins, and fiber
- eliminating empty calories from sugars and fats, such as those in sweetened beverages and candy
The American Heart Association recommend getting 150 minutes of moderate-to-intense physical activity every week. Living an active lifestyle is essential for weight management after gallbladder removal.
People should consult with a doctor about when it is appropriate to return to or begin an exercise regimen after surgery.
The doctor will likely recommend taking time to rest and recover after surgery. However, once the doctor clears a person to return to exercise, walking, biking, yoga, and swimming are excellent choices.
A person who wishes to lose a significant amount of weight in the years following a cholecystectomy should speak with their doctor for advice and support.
A person should never attempt a fad diet as a rapid solution for weight loss after gallbladder removal. These diets may not work, and they can be dangerous.
A high fat diet can cause gallstones. As a result, medical professionals usually advise people to eat low fat foods for several weeks before the surgery. After surgery, most people can slowly return to a regular diet.
A doctor may not prescribe a specific diet, but a bland diet may help a person reduce abdominal or digestive discomfort after surgery.
Healthful eating habits after gallbladder removal include:
- avoiding fried, fatty, and greasy foods
- avoiding spicy foods
- excluding foods that cause gas from the diet
- reducing caffeine intake
- eating smaller meals
- increasing fiber intake slowly
Several factors contribute to weight changes after gallbladder removal.
Surgical side effects
Some side effects of surgery, such as diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting, can cause weight loss.
Some people experience prolonged diarrhea after a cholecystectomy. Doctors are not sure why this happens, but it may be the result of excess bile in the digestive system.
As the gallbladder functions as the standard storage space for bile in the body, losing it means that bile enters the digestive tract.
Some people also experience a decreased appetite for several weeks following surgery.
Following a low fat diet
Following a low fat food plan for a few weeks before surgery reduces the number of calories in the diet.
It is common for people to experience some weight loss as a result of these dietary changes.
If a person takes pain relievers following the surgery, they may experience constipation. Pain and constipation can also affect the desire to eat, which could reduce a person’s intake of calories and contribute to weight loss.
While recovering from surgery, most people will be unlikely to tolerate any food that is too spicy or rich. A person can temporarily follow a bland diet, which is also likely to be lower in calories and to promote slight weight loss.
Recovering from surgery can cause emotional and physical difficulties. The method of surgery can determine how long it takes for a person to resume their usual diet and introduce physical activity.
Traditional surgery tends to come with a more difficult and painful recovery.
For most people, weight loss after gallbladder surgery is a temporary issue. Once the body has adjusted — usually within a few weeks — weight loss will typically slow down or stop.
Side effects from the surgery should only last a few weeks after the procedure. If a person experiences continuing adverse effects after this time, they should report these to the surgeon.
Common side effects of gallbladder removal include:
A person experiencing these side effects should ask their doctor about medication or lifestyle changes that can provide relief.
It can also be helpful to track foods or drinks that aggravate or trigger side effects and exclude them if possible. Keeping a food diary can help a person track and eliminate potentially problematic components of the diet.
People should report any other abnormal symptoms to a doctor. These may include:
- worsening stomach pain
- nausea and vomiting that does not go away
- jaundice, which is yellowing of the eyes and skin
- skin wounds that are warm, red, draining pus, or painful
People with gallstones are those most likely to undergo gallbladder removal. Therefore, they are more likely to experience weight loss after surgery.
In some cases, gallstones do not cause any symptoms. In other cases, they can be very painful and irritate the gallbladder or pancreas.
A cholecystectomy is the most effective treatment for frequent bouts of pain, inflammation, or infection due to gallstones.
People who undergo gallbladder removal surgery will often experience changes in their body weight ahead of and following this procedure.
Many people will lose weight initially but may see an increase in their BMI in the long term.
It is usually possible to manage these weight changes with diet and exercise. A doctor or dietitian can provide individuals with advice on the best diet and activity regimen to meet their needs.
However, it is important that people take time to recover fully from the surgery before trying to exercise.
Can I treat gallstones without surgery?
It is possible for some people who cannot or do not want to undergo surgery for gallstones to try alternative methods. It is important to speak with a doctor to see if this is a possible option.
One common nonsurgical technique is called oral bile acid dissolution therapy. The person will take a pill that helps dissolve and reduce the formation of gallstones. Other therapy options with more limited or uncertain benefits include shockwave therapy to dissolve the stone, statins, ezetimibe, and monoterpenes.
People must meet certain criteria to be a candidate for nonsurgical options. It is also possible for people to have gallstones and not have any symptoms from them. In this case, they are unlikely to need treatment unless symptoms start to develop.Kevin Martinez, M.D. Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.