Why would I need my gallbladder to be removed?
The usual reason is that you have gallstones, and may have had symptoms from them. Your specialist will have investigated your symptoms and decided that gallbladder removal may help treat you.
How is the gallbladder removed?
Gallbladder removal is performed either 'laparoscopically' (keyhole surgery) or 'open'. Keyhole surgery is the usual technique used, and is performed under general anaesthetic. Small cuts are made in the tummy skin to allow a telescope and special instruments to be passed into the abdomen. The gallbladder is then removed and the cuts stitched closed. In about 1 in 20 people it will not be possible to remove the gallbladder this way, and an open approach is needed.
The open approach requires an incision under the ribs on the right hand side. The gallbladder can then be removed and the wound is stitched closed. The scar is longer than the keyhole scars and it may take you a little longer to recover from the surgery.
Although the gallbladder has been removed, the liver will continue to produce bile. This flows directly to the intestine to help digest any fats in the diet, but the lack of a 'pool' of bile means that food with a high fat content may not be digested as efficiently and you may even become intolerant of fatty foods.
What happens after gallbladder surgery?
If you have had keyhole surgery then you should be able to go home on the same or next day. Open surgery may require a few days hospital stay. You should be able to return to normal activities within a few weeks, but get advice from your specialist before returning to activities, work or driving.
Your symptoms should hopefully be resolved following gallbladder removal.
What risks are involved with gallbladder removal?
Leakage of bile - this can usually be dealt with at the time of surgery although may need a further procedure.
Retained stones - the bile duct may have stones lodged in it. The surgeon may be able to remove them at the time of surgery or need to return at a later date.
Bile duct injury - this risk is about 1 in 200, but can be potentially serious and need further surgery.
Bowel injury - the risk is about 1 in 500 and may need further surgery.
Liver damage - this is very rare, but again may need further surgery.
Blood clots in the legs - clots in the calf (deep vein thrombosis / DVT) can usually be treated with medication, but a DVT can (rarely) move to the lungs. This can cause breathing difficulty, or even be life threatening.
Bleeding - excessive bleeding after the operation may need further surgery and transfusion.
Read an account of a patient's Real Experience of gallbladder removal
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You may also be interested to read our article on gallstones
Any procedure involving skin incision can also result in unfavourable scarring, wound infection, or bleeding. This list of risks is not exhaustive, and you should discuss possible complications with your specialist. Whilst these risks will seem very worrysome, and indeed can be serious, it should also be borne in mind that many people have no postoperative problems whatsoever.
The information provided is as a guide only and you should discuss matters fully with your specialist before deciding if this is the right procedure for you. Please also read our disclaimer