Gallbladder removal surgery, also called a cholecystectomy, is a common procedure performed by a general surgeon. Your doctor might recommend you have your gallbladder taken out if you have gallstones or inflammation in your gallbladder or pancreas. Knowing what to expect during and after the procedure can make your recovery easier.
Preparation for Surgery
Tell your surgeon about any medications and supplements you take. You'll be able to continue taking any medications as normal up to your surgery date, but you may need to stop taking some medications that increase your risk of bleeding 10 to 14 days prior to your surgery.
Your surgeon will likely ask you to stop eating and drinking at least four hours before your surgery to make sure your stomach is empty during the procedure. You may be told to stop eating and drinking the night before your surgery.
During the Procedure
Before your surgery, you'll be placed under general anesthesia. Many cholecystectomies can be performed laparoscopically. If you're a candidate for laparoscopic surgery, your surgeon will make four small incisions into your belly and insert a tube with a video camera on the end.
Surgical tools inserted through the other incisions allow the surgeon to remove the organ without making a large incision across your abdomen. Laparoscopic surgery allows patients to heal much faster than traditional gallbladder removal surgery.
If you aren't a candidate for laparoscopic surgery, your surgeon will make a larger incision (about six inches long) on the right side of your abdomen and remove the gallbladder through the single incision. Both types of cholecystectomies typically take one to two hours.
Recovery After Surgery
Patients who have their gallbladders removed usually experience some pain after the procedure. Over-the-counter pain medications and placing ice on your incisions can help reduce your pain. Your surgeon might prescribe narcotic pain medication for the first few days to manage pain that isn't alleviated with over-the-counter medicines.
Some people feel sick to their stomachs and may vomit after surgery. Nausea from the anesthesia should subside within a day or two.
You should be able to walk around the day of your surgery. Most people are able to return to work and most normal activities within a week of laparoscopic gallbladder surgery. You may need several additional weeks to heal before you can go back to physical jobs that require lifting.
Traditional cholecystectomy patients may need four to six weeks to fully heal due to the larger incision.
Many cholecystectomy patients are able to go home the day of surgery after several hours of being monitored in the hospital or surgical facility. If you have severe pain or any complications, you may need to stay one or more nights in the hospital. Plan on having someone available to drive you home and stay near you the first night in case you need help.
Talk to a general surgeon about any questions or concerns you have about gallbladder removal.