Gallbladder Surgery

What is gallbladder surgery?

Gallbladder removal surgery, also known as a cholecystectomy, is a procedure that is done to remove gallstones. Some people who have gallstones will need gallbladder surgery. Small in size, gallstones can form due to an imbalance in the substances that bile is comprised of. Gall stones often cause pain after eating food, worse with eating fat containing foods. This pain often comes and goes quite quick and is called biliary colic. More severe attacks of pain are due to infection complicating gall stones in the gall bladder, this leads to longer periods of pain, sometimes temperatures and shivers/shakes/sweats. This is called cholecystitis.

There are also other conditions that can require gallbladder surgery, including gall stones which are present in the bile duct, biliary abnormal/lack of gall bladder function when eating food (gall bladder dyskinesia) and, pancreatitis due to gall stones.

The two main types of gallbladder surgery are open gallbladder removal and laparoscopic gallbladder removal.

man slightly hunched over whilst holding side of stomach in pain

Am I a good candidate for gallbladder surgery?

If you have painful gallstones, you would typically be a suitable candidate for gallbladder removal surgery. In a lot of cases, gallstones cause no symptoms, so people are not aware that they have them. Symptoms can occur when gallstones start to block bile flow, causing irritation in the gallbladder and potentially the pancreas (acute pancreatitis). Other symptoms can include; nausea, vomiting and intense pain in the stomach. Gallstones can also cause jaundice, which is a condition characterised by the skin, and in some cases, the whites of the eyes, turning yellow.

You may have been prescribed tablets in order to dissolve gallstones. If this medication has proven ineffective, it is likely that gallbladder surgery will be recommended.

How does gallbladder surgery work?

The two most common types of gallbladder surgery are:

Laparoscopic gallbladder removal

This is the preferred form of gallbladder surgery, as it is less invasive than an open gallbladder removal. A general anaesthetic is administered before four small incisions are made by the surgeon in the abdomen. The incisions allow a tiny camera to be inserted into the abdomen, along with the surgical tools needed. The camera relays footage to the monitor, which can be used as a guide by the surgeon.

Gas can be used to inflate the abdomen during the procedure, giving the surgeon more space to work in. The gallbladder can be removed through the incisions, and after the removal, an x-ray can be used to check for any bile duct problems, allowing any bile stones to be removed.

Open gallbladder removal

In cases of severe disease in the gallbladder, an open gallbladder removal can be the best option. After assessments are conducted to ensure you are a suitable candidate for the procedure - including imaging and blood tests, and medical history review - your doctor will provide clear instructions on preparing for the procedure.

General anaesthetic is typically administered ahead of the surgery, and the procedure will begin with the cleansing of the abdomen using an antiseptic formula. An incision can then be made, before the skin, tissue and muscle which cover the gallbladder are pulled away. The gallbladder is then removed before the wound is stitched up and bandaged. The procedure can take two hours or more.

Recovery from gallbladder surgery

Recovery from a laparoscopic gallbladder removal is shorter, with patients being able to leave hospital on the same or next day, and resume their daily activities in just two weeks. After open gallbladder removal, a hospital stay of five days could be required, followed by a recovery period of eight weeks.