What Is the Function of the Gallbladder?
The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ that is located under the liver that stores bile, a fluid that helps the body break down fat in food.
What Is Gallbladder Removal Surgery?
Gallbladder removal (cholecystectomy) surgery is removal of the gallbladder, which is done in one of two different ways:
- Laparoscopic surgery is the most common procedure for gallbladder removal in which a surgeon uses a long, thin tube with a light and a tiny camera on the end to see inside the body (laparoscope). A few small incisions are made and the surgeon inserts the laparoscope and other special tools through the incisions to perform the operation.
- Open surgery is performed when the gallbladder and bile duct are too infected or scarred to safely perform laparoscopic surgery. It may also be recommended in patients who are obese, have severe gallbladder disease, or pregnant women in the last trimester of pregnancy. In this procedure, a larger incision in in the belly is created to perform the surgery directly.
Both procedures are performed under general anesthesia.
Why Is Gallbladder Removal Surgery Performed?
The most common reason for gallbladder removal surgery is to treat gallstones that form inside the gallbladder.
In many cases, gallstones do not cause problems and surgery is only needed if a stone blocks a bile duct, resulting in a “gallbladder attack,” which causes severe, stabbing pain in the belly that can last several hours.
Gallstones do not go away on their own without treatment. Medications may be tried first, but they can take months to years to dissolve the stones, and gallstones often return.
In some cases, gallstones can block the bile ducts and prevent them from draining, which results in pain, inflammation, nausea, and vomiting.
In serious cases, gallstones can lead to yellowing of skin and eyes (jaundice), gallbladder infection, inflamed gallbladder (cholecystitis), inflamed bile ducts (cholangitis), tears in the gallbladder (which can be fatal), and inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).
Other reasons gallbladder removal surgery may be indicated include:
- Gallbladder cancer
- Chronic acalculous gallbladder disease
How Long Is the Recovery from Gallbladder Surgery?
Recovery varies depending on whether laparoscopic or open surgery is performed.
With laparoscopic surgery, patients are usually able to leave the hospital the same day as the procedure. In some cases, there will be an overnight stay required. Patients are advised to rest and avoid sports, heavy lifting, and swimming for at least one week, and patients can usually resume their normal routine in about 2 weeks.
With open surgery, patients typically stay in the hospital for 1 to 2 days. Once home, patients are advised to avoid sports, heavy lifting, and swimming for a few weeks. It may take 6 to 8 weeks for a full recovery.
What Are the Risks of Gallbladder Removal?
The risks of gallbladder removal surgery include:
- Damage to other bile ducts near the gallbladder
- Bile leakage
- Gallstones that remain stuck in the bile duct - “post-cholecystectomy syndrome” (PCS)
- Bowel damage
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