How long does it take for you to recover from a cholecystectomy? The length of the recovery period depends on whether you had a laparoscopic or open cholecystectomy. Many people who have keyhole surgery are released from the hospital the same day of the surgery. It may take up to 2 weeks for these people to resume their normal jobs and activities.
In case you have an open cholecystectomy, you will first stay in the hospital for about 3-5 days before leaving for home. Recovery from open gallbladder removal will take more time compared to laparoscopic removal. It can take about 6 to 8 weeks to return to normal activities after open cholecystectomy.
In either procedure, you need to have someone to take care of you after leaving the hospital. Someone needs to stay by your side for 24 hours in case you go home the same day as your surgery, as you may have the feeling and effects of the anesthesia.
What Should You Expect during Cholecystectomy Recovery?
You can actually live a normal life without your gallbladder. Therefore, you should not expect any long-term effects after your gallbladder is removed. Long-term effects are rare. However, you are likely to experience temporary side effects or complications while you recover. The side effects include:
- A feeling of sickness - You are likely to feel sick because of the painkillers and anesthesia you are given during surgery. This feeling should pass quickly with time.
- Swollen and painful wounds - You should expect to have bruised and painful wounds, which will improve in a few days. The use of painkillers, such as paracetamol, can help you relieve the pain and reduce discomfort.
- Pain in your shoulders and stomach - This pain may be a result of the gas used to inflate the stomach during surgery. This pain will go away within a few days, but you can use painkillers to reduce this pain and relieve the discomfort.
- Mood changes, irritability, and fatigue - As you recover, these feelings will improve.
- Diarrhea, bloating, and flatulence - This can take some weeks to go away. However, eating foods rich in fiber, such as whole meal bread, fruits, vegetables, and brown rice, can help make your stools firm. Your doctor will also prescribe you some medications to help get rid of these side effects.
The above side effects are usually normal and should not cause you any worry. You only need to contact your doctor for advice if the side effects of cholecystectomy persist or become severe.
Taking Care of Your Wounds
In most cases, surgeons use dissolvable stitches to close your wounds. The dissolvable stitches should begin to disappear by themselves within the first two weeks. In cases where non-dissolvable stitches are used, you will have them removed by your nurse seven to ten days after the cholecystectomy. You will be given an appointment for stitches removal before leaving the hospital.
Your nurse and doctor will educate you on how you can look after your wounds and stitches. This education includes how long your dressings need to stay and when you should replace them before having showers or baths.
You will have scars where the cuts were made in your stomach during the operation. The scars are red in color at first, but they fade with time.
Caring for Your Stitches
As you will have stitches to close your wounds after operation, you should make sure that:
- They are kept clean and dry
- They are monitored for any signs of an infection
This will help you reduce the chances of getting an infection.
Some things you can do to protect your stitches include:
- Avoid scratching them, even when they are tight and strong. Scratching can cause them damage.
- Avoid contact sports, such as hockey and football, to give your wound enough and cool time to heal.
- Don’t engage in swimming until the stitches are removed and the wounds have healed completely.
Pain Control during Recovery
Different people react differently to pain. There is moderate to severe pain with this procedure. If you had a laparoscopic surgery, you are likely to experience pain on the shoulders. Walking can help reduce the gas used during the operation, hence reducing the shoulder pain. You should not wait for your pain to become severe. Some medications you can use to reduce pain include:
- Narcotics - Also called opioids and are used to get rid of severe pain. Examples of narcotics include codeine and morphine. Their side effects include skin rash, increased pulse rate, sleepiness, and increased breathing rate.
- Non-opioids - Are analgesics usually called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). They are usually used in treatment of mild pain. Their side effects include fluid retention, stomach upset, and digestive tract bleeding. Examples include Toradol, Ibuprofen, Aleve®, and Mortrin®.
Getting Back to Your Normal State
Your doctor will give you some advice about the time you will take to return to your normal chores. After a laparoscopic gallbladder removal you can:
- Eat a normal diet immediately - even if you were advised not to eat some foods before the operation, you can get to your normal diet. You should take a balanced and healthy diet to improve your recovery process.
- Drive again in a week - you can drive after a one week recovery period. However, you should make sure you wear a seat belt and you are feeling comfortable after practicing an emergency stop.
- Do simple exercises such as jogging - you should not force yourself to do strenuous exercises immediately after leaving hospital. You should stick to gentle physical activities such as walking.
- Get to work after 10 to 14 days - this may depend on the work you do.
- Have sexual intercourse when you feel comfortable - you should make sure you don’t place heavy weight on your wounds before they heal
After an open cholecystectomy, it may take much longer for you to return to your normal activities. You may not be able to return to your work or drive for a period of 4 to 8 weeks.
When Should I get Medical Advice?
During your cholecystectomy recovery period, you may require medical attention if you experience:
- Pale stools and dark urine.
- Yellow eyes, tongue, and skin. These are symptoms of jaundice.
- A discharge, redness, and swelling on your wounds.
- A return of the original side gallbladder complication symptoms.
- Fever and high temperature above 38°C.
- Severe and increasing pain.
- Bleeding or pus from the wound.
- Swollen lymph glands.
- A feeling of warmth on the wound.
Recovery from cholecystectomy can take long depending on the procedure used to remove your gallbladder. You may experience some side effects and complications after the surgery, but the most important thing is to have a cool environment to facilitate the healing process. You should also take care of your stitches and wounds to prevent infections that would increase the length of your recovery period.