A person may require gallbladder removal surgery if other treatments do not relieve the inflammation and pain from gallstones and related issues. Cholecystectomy is the medical term for gallbladder removal surgery.

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

This article discusses the different types of gallbladder removal surgery, what to expect during the procedure, and the recovery process.

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 issues, 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.

The medical term for gallbladder removal surgery is a 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 on the body and insert a tiny video camera and special surgical tools.

Laparoscopic procedures allow healthcare professionals to see and work inside the abdomen without making a large cut, reducing the recovery time and the risk of infection.

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

The recovery process following a cholecystectomy 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

After a laparoscopic procedure, most people can leave the hospital on the same day as the surgery. However, a friend or family member will need to drive the individual home after surgery or accompany them in a taxi.

It is also important to rest and avoid strenuous activities for up to 2 weeks, but a person should be able to return to normal activities after this time.

Recovery from open surgery

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

It can take 6–8 weeks to make a complete recovery from open surgery and return to normal activities.

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 below symptoms after gallstone removal surgery should visit a doctor.

  • pain that worsens or does not get better over time
  • 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

If a surgeon cannot remove the stones readily with maneuvers during the surgery, a person may need a procedure called endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). A gastroenterologist passes a camera down from the person’s mouth up to the first part of their small intestine where the bile duct inserts. They then access the duct from there to try and remove the stones.

An ERCP procedure can also help fix a postoperative bile leak, which healthcare professionals can treat with a repeat surgical procedure or interventional radiology.

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

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

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

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.