Anatomy and gallbladder surgery

The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ in the abdomen that produces, stores, and releases bile, a fluid produced by the liver that helps digest fats in the small intestine. If the bile in your gallbladder becomes chemically imbalanced, it can form into hardened particles that grow over time and eventually turn into gallstones.


When your gallbladder is not working correctly (biliary dyskinesia), these symptoms may occur:

  • Indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pain after eating in the middle or right upper belly
  • Infection

Gallstones can be quite painful and, if left untreated, can lead to serious complications. For example, if the stones move to nearby bile ducts, they can cause blockages that lead to jaundice (the buildup of bile chemicals in the blood), or inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).

Once gallstones have been identified, either through a CT or CAT scan, hepatobiliary (HIDA) scan, or other test, surgical removal of the gallbladder is usually the best option.

Patients with gallstones are also more likely to develop gallbladder cancer due to the increased exposure of gallbladder cells to toxins. However, this complication is very rare, and most gallstone patients never develop gallbladder cancer.

Gallbladder surgery procedure

Gallbladder surgery (cholecystectomy) can be performed as an open surgery or laparoscopic surgery (pictured above.) Laparoscopic surgery offers a less invasive approach to gallbladder removal and allows for quicker healing time.

The easiest and common way to remove a gallbladder is with a laparoscope, a thin tube that is inserted into your belly through a small incision. The tube is lighted and a tiny TV camera inserted into it so the doctor can view your internal organs on a TV monitor.

Through a few other small incisions in your abdomen, the surgeon inserts medical instruments to remove the gallbladder. To make it easier to move instruments within your belly, it is inflated with gas.

Gallbladder surgery involves first cutting the bile duct and blood vessels attached to it. Then the gallbladder can be removed with the laparoscope.

Some dye is put into your common bile duct so a type of x-ray (cholangiogram) can see if other gallbladder stones are in it and should be removed. The bile duct is left inside your abdomen.

Gallbladder surgery is performed using general anesthesia, so you are asleep and unable to feel pain

Preparing for gallbladder surgery

Before surgery the surgeon will likely take tests:

  • X-ray of your gallbladder
  • Chest x-ray or EKG (electrocardiogram)
  • Blood tests

On that day you have gallbladder surgery:

  • No eating or drinking after midnight the night before
  • Take any drugs your doctor said you may take with a sip of water
  • Shower the night before or morning of your surgery

After gallbladder surgery

  • Patients who undergo gallbladder surgery can often leave the hospital the same day as the surgery. Immediately after surgery, you will be taken to a recovery area where you can rest and begin taking pain medication. Once you are feeling better (often within a few hours), you may return home.
  • At home, you may experience abdominal cramping, fatigue, and bruising around your incisions. Make sure to follow your doctor's advice about when to remove your dressing, when you can bathe (usually the next day), and what kind of foods to eat (usually light meals).
  • Be sure to walk and move around as much as possible.
  • Your doctor will advise you when to return to work; generally, you may return after five to 10 days.
  • Once you're feeling like yourself again, it is important to stay active and eat nutritious, high-fiber foods. Talk to your doctor about improving your overall health through changes in diet and exercise.
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