Gallbladder removal surgery, also known as a cholecystectomy, is a very common procedure.
The gallbladder is a small, pouch-like organ in the upper right part of your tummy. It stores bile, a fluid produced by the liver that helps break down fatty foods.
You don’t need a gallbladder, so surgery to take it out is often recommended if you develop any problems with it.
Why does my gallbladder need to be removed?
Surgery to remove the gallbladder is usually carried out if you have painful gallstones. These are small stones that can form in the gallbladder as a result of an imbalance in the substances that make up bile.
Gallstones often cause 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).
This can cause symptoms such as:
- sudden and intense tummy pain
- feeling and being sick
- yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice)
Very occasionally it may be possible to take tablets to dissolve gallstones, but surgery to remove the gallbladder is the most effective treatment in the vast majority of cases.
What happens during gallbladder removal surgery
There are two main ways of removing a gallbladder:
- laparoscopic (keyhole) cholecystectomy – several small cuts (incisions) are made in your tummy (abdomen) and fine surgical instruments are used to access and remove your gallbladder
- open cholecystectomy – a single larger incision is made in your tummy to access and remove your gallbladder
Keyhole surgery is used most often because you can leave hospital sooner, recover faster and are left with smaller scars than with an open procedure.
Both techniques are performed under general anaesthetic, which means you’ll be asleep during the operation and won’t feel any pain while it’s carried out.
Recovering from gallbladder removal surgery
It doesn’t usually take long to recover from keyhole surgery to remove your gallbladder and most patients leave hospital the same day or the next morning.
You will probably be able to return to most of your normal activities within two weeks however, it can take longer to recover from open surgery. You may need to stay in hospital for upto five days and it could be 6 to 8 weeks before you’re feeling back to normal.
Do I need to change my diet after gallbladder surgery?
Most people don’t need to follow a special diet after having surgery to remove their gallbladder, as the gallbladder isn’t essential for digestion.
You can usually start eating normally a few hours after your operation, although you’ll probably prefer to eat small meals to start with.
You may have been advised to follow a low-fat diet for several weeks before surgery, but this doesn’t need to be continued afterwards. Instead, you should aim to have a generally healthy, balanced diet, including some fats.
If you experience side effects from surgery, including indigestion, bloating, flatulence or diarrhoea, it may help to make some small adjustments to your diet.
- avoid drinks containing caffeine, such as coffee and tea
- avoid foods that make the problems worse, such as spicy or fatty foods
- gradually increase your intake of fibre – good sources of fibre include fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrain rice, wholewheat pasta and bread, seeds, nuts and oats
Your GP can also recommend medication if you have diarrhoea.
Side effects of gallbladder surgery usually only last a few weeks, although diarrhoea can be a more persistent problem for a small number of people.
If you have had other organs removed as well as your gallbladder, such as your pancreas, you may have problems digesting food.
You will be advised about any changes you need to make to your diet after surgery in these cases.
Living without a gallbladder
You can lead a perfectly normal life without a gallbladder. Your liver will still make enough bile to digest your food, but instead of being stored in the gallbladder, it drips continuously into your digestive system.
You may have been advised to eat a special diet before surgery, but this doesn’t need to be continued afterwards.
Instead, you should aim to have a generally healthy, balanced diet. Some people experience problems such as bloating or diarrhoea after surgery, although this usually improves within a few weeks.
If you notice certain foods or drinks trigger these symptoms, you may wish to avoid them in the future.
Risks of gallbladder removal surgery
Gallbladder removal surgery is considered to be a safe procedure, but, like any type of surgery, there’s a risk of complications.
Possible complications include:
- wound infection
- bile leaking into the tummy
- damage to one of the openings (ducts) carrying bile out of the liver
- blood clots
Mr Agwunobi will be pleased to talk to you about the benefits and risks of surgery before your operation to ensure that you are fully informed.