The gallbladder is found under the liver on the right side of the abdomen. It has the shape of a pear and looks like a small sac. Your liver produces a fluid used during digestion known as bile. The gallbladder stores bile before releasing it into the small intestine. If the gallbladder is infected or has gallstones, you may have to undergo a surgery to remove the gallbladder. The removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) does not affect your digestion and has very minimal complications. The surgery has generally high success rates.
- Gallbladder cancer - If you have gallbladder cancer, your gallbladder may be removed in order to reduce the pain and stop cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. In case cancer moves outside the gallbladder, you may need other serious surgeries.
- Gallstones in the gallbladder - Because of the chemicals found in bile, your gallbladder might have gallstones. Gallstones are formed when cholesterol-like materials in the bile harden. Mild gallstones do not require treatment but severe gallstones require surgery.
- Inflammation of the gallbladder - The condition is also known as cholecystitis. The gallbladder can be inflamed if gallstones block it. As a result, you may experience fever and severe pain. Cholecystitis can cause gallbladder perforation leading to an emergency gallbladder removal surgery.
- Gallstones in the bile duct - Gallstones can block the flow of bile from the gallbladder or from the liver. The blockage may cause pain and infection. You may notice your skin turning yellow, which signifies infection. This condition is also known as "choledocholithiasis" and is considered as a medical emergency.
- Inflammation of the pancreas - If there is a gallstone that causes blockage of the pancreatic duct, the pancreas will be inflamed. This condition is also known as pancreatitis, which causes severe pain in the abdomen and is a medical emergency.
- Gallbladder disease without gallstones - If your gallbladder does not empty even in the absence of gallstones, you may have symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain, and stomach gas. This condition is known as biliary colic.
It is a procedure where the gallbladder is entirely removed. In order to digest food, your body does not necessarily need the gallbladder. In most cases, your doctor will recommend a laparoscopic surgery. If need be, your doctor may suggest an open laparoscopy.
Risks Associated with Cholecystectomy
The following are possible complications associated with cholecystectomy:
- persistent bleeding
- infection of the surgical wound
- bile duct injury
- liver damage during surgery
- scar and numbness of the incision areas
- herniated tissues or organs
In a laparoscopic procedure, the surgical instruments that are put inside your belly might cause injury to your blood vessels, organs, or intestines. You and your doctor should discuss such risk factor. Your doctor will also help you understand the whole process and how to take care of yourself after the surgery.
How to Get Ready for a Cholecystectomy
- Your doctor will give you detailed information about the procedure and what is required of you. Ask questions if you have any.
- A consent form will be given to you. Read the document thoroughly before placing your signature.
- Your doctor will enquire about your past medical records. A physical examination and blood tests are done to affirm your health condition prior to the surgery.
- You should not drink or take any solid food at least 8 hours before the surgery. In case your surgery is scheduled in the morning, do not consume anything past midnight.
- If you suspect that you might be pregnant, please let your doctor know in time.
- In case you have any allergies, please inform your doctor to avoid anesthetic reactions or any other medications or instruments used during surgery.
- If you are taking supplements, prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, or any herbal medicine, please let your doctor know.
- If you have bleeding disorders, please inform your doctor.
- If you took any blood thinners in less than 14 days before your scheduled surgery, please inform your doctor.
- Arrange for someone to take you home after the operation or at the day of your hospital discharge.
Prior to any tests or any procedure, make sure you know the following:
- the type of procedure or tests that you will undergo
- the reasons for the procedure or tests
- the benefits and risks associated with the procedure
- the schedule of your procedure or tests
- how to obtain the results of the procedure or tests
- the cost of the tests or the procedure
- the safety of the procedure
What takes place during a cholecystectomy?
During a cholecystectomy, you are put under general anesthesia, which means that you are going to be unconscious during the operation. You can either be admitted to the hospital or be an outpatient.
- You will be required to remove all your jewelry or any other things that may interfere with your surgery.
- You will replace all your clothing with a surgical gown provided by the surgical nurse.
- An intravenous line will be connected to your arm or hand.
- You will be positioned on a surgical table before the anesthetic is applied.
- A breathing tube will be inserted into your throat as a breathing aid.
- The anesthesiologist will be monitoring your heart rate, breathing, and oxygen level during the entire operation.
- Any hair on the surgical site will be shaven off to pave way for a cleaner and more visible environment.
- The skin around the surgical areas will be cleaned with an antiseptic.
In an open cholecystectomy, small cuts will be made. These small cuts are made below your right ribs or in the upper right part of your abdomen. After the incision, your gallbladder will be carefully removed. In a few cases, some drains may be put into the small cuts to allow drainage of puss or any other discharges.
What happens during postcholecystectomy?
At the hospital
- You will first be sent to the recovery section to be monitored before being transferred to your hospital room or before you are discharged in the case of a laparoscopic cholecystectomy.
- Your doctor will give you a prescription for antibiotics and pain relievers.
- A tube may be inserted to remove swallowed air until your bowel starts working well again.
- You may be able to eat after a few hours.
- You will be given follow-up appointments by your doctor. Ensure that you contact your doctor in case you notice anything unusual.
Always remember to keep your incision areas clean. Avoid strenuous work and find someone to help you around the house in the first few days. Follow your doctor’s prescription to help you recover fast.
You have to call your doctor immediately if you have the following symptoms:
- abnormal body temperature (too high or too low)
- if your incision is swollen, has a foul smell, or discharge
- a persistent pain around the surgical area
- if your skin turns yellow
- persistent cramps or abdominal pain
- pain near your breastbone
- no bowel movement after 48 hours
- Cholecystitis can cause gallbladder perforation leading to an emergency gallbladder removal surgery.
- Mild gallstones do not require treatment but severe gallstones require surgery.
- If you have gallbladder cancer, your gallbladder may be removed in order to reduce the pain and stop cancer from spreading to other parts of the body.