Much like our appendix, the gallbladder is a mystery to many people. So, when it comes to gallbladder surgery, there are always a lot of questions. We answer the most common gallbladder questions – and bust a myth while we’re at it – below. But if you want more, please reach out to us.
What is the gallbladder anyway, and what does it do?
To understand the gallbladder, you should first know another term: bile.
The liver produces bile, which is vital for the digestion and absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins in the small intestine.
The gallbladder is a small hollow organ that stores and concentrates bile to prepare it to be released into the small intestine. In humans, it attaches to the liver.
That sounds serious.
Well, the gallbladder’s function is important. However, but, also like the appendix, you can live without it. Normal digestion is possible without a gallbladder. Bile will continue to reach your small intestine, but it won’t be stored along the way.
In fact, most animals don’t even have one.
So why should I ever get gallbladder surgery?
Surgery to remove the gallbladder, also known as a cholecystectomy, is most often performed to treat gallstones and the complications they cause.
Okay there’s another term I don’t know. What are gallstones?
Glad you asked. They’re pieces of solid material that form in the gallbladder, a small organ located under the liver. You might not even know you have them until they block a bile duct, causing pain you need to get treated right away.
So your doctor may recommend a cholecystectomy if you have:
- Gallstones in the gallbladder (cholelithiasis)
- Gallstones in the bile duct (choledocholithiasis)
- Gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis)
- Pancreas inflammation (pancreatitis) due to gallstones
Any of these can result in a gallbladder attack, which can cause intense pain in the abdomen.
So what is gallbladder surgery?
During a laparoscopic cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal), the surgeon makes four small incisions in your abdomen. He or she will then insert a tube with a tiny video camera into your abdomen through one incision. He or she watches a video monitor in the operating room while using surgical tools inserted through the other incisions in your abdomen to remove your gallbladder.
Are there any risks?
According to the Mayo Clinic,
“a cholecystectomy carries a small risk of complications including:
- Bile leak
- Blood clots
- Heart problems
- Injury to nearby structures, such as the bile duct, liver, and small intestine
Your risk of complications depends on your overall health and the reason for your cholecystectomy.”
How do I prepare for gallbladder surgery?
To prepare for a cholecystectomy, your surgeon may ask you to:
• Drink a solution to clean out your intestines. In the days before your procedure, your surgeon may give you a prescription solution that flushes stool out of your intestines. Can remove. Most do not do this.
• Eat nothing the night before your surgery. You may drink a sip of water with your medications, but avoid eating and drinking at least eight hours before your surgery.
• Stop taking certain medications and supplements. Tell your doctor about all the medications and supplements you take. Continue taking most medications as prescribed. Your doctor may ask you to stop taking certain medications and supplements because they may increase your risk of bleeding.
What can I expect after removal of my gallbladder?
While it is not the norm to experience digestive problems after gallbladder surgery, they can include:
- Difficulty digesting fatty foods.
- Diarrhea (temporary or chronic)
- Temporary constipation
- Retained stone in a bile duct
Any post-surgical symptoms like this require immediate medical attention.
I heard I must change my diet after gallbladder removal. Give me the bad news.
Here’s the myth-breaking part:
There isn’t a set gallbladder removal diet, but the Mayo Clinic offers the following tips that may help minimize problems with diarrhea after you’ve had your gallbladder out. (Coincidentally, they are the same recommendations any doctor would give anyone for a healthy diet):
- Go easy on the fat. Avoid high-fat foods, fried and greasy foods and fatty sauces and gravies for at least one week after surgery. Instead, choose fat-free or low-fat foods. Low-fat foods are those with only 3 grams of fat a serving. Check labels and follow the serving size listed.
- Increase the fiber in your diet. This can help normalize bowel movements. Add soluble fiber, such as oats and barley, to your diet. Be sure to increase the amount of fiber slowly, such as over several weeks, because too much fiber at first can make gas and cramping worse.
- Eat smaller, more-frequent meals. This may ensure a better mix with available bile. A healthy meal should include small amounts of lean protein, such as poultry, fish or fat-free dairy, along with vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
You may also try limiting foods that tend to worsen diarrhea, including:
- Dairy products
- Very sweet foods
Here are the instructions we give to any of our patients who receive laparoscopic cholecystectomy:
- Moderate activity as tolerated.
- Walk as often as you feel able.
- Do coughing and deep breathing exercises several times an hour while awake.
- Avoid heavy lifting.
- Do not drive a car or operate machinery for 24 hours.
- Do not sign legal documents for 24 hours.
- You may experience light headedness, dizziness, and sleepiness following surgery. You should have a responsible adult with you for 24 hours following surgery.
Progress slowly to a regular diet. Start with liquids, then light foods (soup, jell-o, etc.) as you can tolerate, gradually progressing to solid foods. Avoid heavy, spicy, fried foods when first eating.
Drink plenty of fluids.
Do not drink alcoholic beverages for 24 hours following your procedure or while taking antibiotics or narcotic pain medication.
If you have skin glue or steri strips, do not pick at or try to remove. Leave intact until your postoperative follow up appointment with your surgeon. It is okay to shower the following day after surgery. Do not submerge your incision under water.
If you have a dressing, keep the dressing clean and dry. Do not remove the dressing until your postoperative follow up visit with your surgeon unless instructed to do so by your surgeon. You may take a sponge bath only the following day after surgery, but do not get your dressing wet.
Observe the operative area for signs of excessive bleeding. A small amount of bright red bleeding is normal. If your bandage becomes saturated, do not remove and call your surgeon.
You should have a bowel movement 1-2 days after your surgery. If you cannot move your bowels, you may take any over the counter fiber laxative and stool softener daily until bowel movements are normal.
Patients who have had laparoscopic procedures, it is normal to experience gas pains that radiate under the ribs to the shoulder and back. This could last up to 72 hours. Ambulating and applying warm compress will help ease the discomfort.
CALL YOUR SURGEON IF YOU HAVE:
- Chills or temperature greater than 101F.
- Redness around the incision and it is warm to touch.
- Pain that medication can’t control.
- Persistent bleeding that is soaking through your dressing.
- If you do not have a follow-up appointment with your surgeon, call their office today to set up an appointment as directed.
- If your surgeon obtained a specimen or biopsy, results will be back in 7-10 days.
Hopefully we’ve answered most of your questions about the gallbladder removal procedure. If you’d like to speak to a specialist here at NTTC Surgery Center, we’re just a click or a phone call away.