Life after gallbladder surgery

Life After Gallbladder Removal: What to Expect

Your gallbladder is an organ located in your abdomen. It’s part of your digestive system. When your gallbladder is healthy, it moves fluid (bile) from your liver to your small intestine.

Bile helps you digest the food you eat. But sometimes, bile hardens into deposits (gallstones) that block its flow. Your gallbladder may then become inflamed.

When gallbladder problems occur, gallbladder surgery (cholecystectomy) can help you feel better. Here’s what you should know about gallbladder surgery recovery and life after gallbladder removal.

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How Gallbladder Surgery May Help

Your gallbladder aids digestion, but your body can function without it. Doctors perform gallbladder surgery to treat conditions that cause pain, like gallbladder attacks. You may have this surgery if you have:

  • Gallstones.
  • Growths (polyps) in your gallbladder.
  • Inflammation in your gallbladder (cholecystitis).

Talk to your doctor about whether this surgery is right for you. They’ll let you know what to expect when recovering from gallbladder surgery.

Types of Gallbladder Surgery and Recovery

Surgeons use two different surgical methods to remove the gallbladder. In both types, doctors put you to sleep with medication (general anesthesia) so you won’t feel any pain. You won’t remember having gallbladder surgery.

But gallbladder surgery recovery is different depending on which surgery type you have. Talk to your doctor about which surgery is best for your health. You may have:

Minimally invasive (laparoscopic or robotic) gallbladder surgery

In minimally invasive gallbladder surgery, your surgeon makes several small cuts (incisions) in your abdomen. They insert a thin tube with a light (laparoscope) and inflate your belly with gas.

The surgeon uses the laparoscope’s built-in camera to see your gallbladder. They disconnect blood vessels and the tubes (ducts) that carry bile. Your surgeon then removes your gallbladder before closing the incisions.

Typically, you don’t need to stay in the hospital overnight to recover from minimally invasive gallbladder surgery. Before you go home, your doctor makes sure you:

  • Aren’t in a lot of pain.
  • Can drink liquids and keep them down.

“Because this surgery uses smaller incisions, it usually takes about a week to heal,” said Ibnalwalid Saad, MD, general surgeon, “You may be able to go back to work and other activities soon after surgery.”

Minimally invasive gallbladder surgery may not be right for you if your gallbladder is very inflamed or if you have scarring. There is a slight chance that during gallbladder surgery via a minimally invasive approach, the surgeon will need to transition to a traditional open surgery to avoid complication.

Open gallbladder surgery

During open gallbladder surgery, your surgeon makes a large incision in your upper abdomen. They make the incision under the ribs on your right side. After opening your abdomen, they:

  • Disconnect your gallbladder’s bile ducts and blood vessels.
  • Remove your gallbladder.
  • Use stitches to close the incision.

Because this surgery uses a large incision, recovery takes longer. You may need to:

  • Be in the hospital for a few days after surgery.
  • Follow up with your doctor in the first few weeks to see how you’re healing.
  • Take at least 4 weeks off from physical activities while you heal.

Talk to your doctor about when you can return to work and resume your typical routines.

About Gallbladder Surgery Recovery

Gallbladder surgery recovery is different for every person. Your recovery depends on:

  • How advanced your gallbladder problems were.
  • Other health conditions you have.
  • Type of gallbladder surgery you had.
  • Your level of activity before surgery.

What to do right after gallbladder surgery

It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions after gallbladder surgery. It’s also important to:

  • Ask for help at home. Your body needs time to recover before you jump back into your routine. If friends or loved ones offer, accept help with meals, laundry, and childcare.
  • Give yourself time to heal. You may be anxious to get back to work or activities. If you have a job that requires heavy lifting or other physical duties, talk to your doctor about what’s best for you.
  • Wait to drive until your doctor says it’s OK. Ask your doctor how soon you can drive after surgery.

What to watch for after gallbladder surgery

Gallbladder surgery is typically a routine procedure, but there is always a chance for complications. Let your doctor know right away if something doesn’t seem right after gallbladder surgery. Tell your doctor if you have:

  • Blood or fluid (pus) at your incision.
  • Fever.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Worsening pain in your belly.
  • Redness at your incision.
  • Yellowing of your skin or eyes.

Life After Gallbladder Removal

Before surgery, you probably knew which foods to avoid when you had gallbladder issues. Talk to your doctor about which foods are healthiest for you now. You may need to avoid:

  • Dairy.
  • Greasy foods.
  • High-fat foods, including fatty meats and fried foods.
  • Processed foods.

These foods may be harder for your body to digest without your gallbladder. After your doctor removes your gallbladder, bile flows directly into your small intestine. Bile flowing into your intestine at a faster rate can change how your body digests food.

You may notice you have more:

  • Bloating
  • Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas

Gallbladder removal may make your stool (poop) softer. You may also pass stool more often than you did before surgery. Your stool may have a stronger smell than it used to because of increased bile salts (bile acids) in your intestine.

Follow your doctor’s instructions about which foods to eat right after surgery. Your doctor can also tell you which foods to add back into your diet gradually to support your digestive system.

Your doctor may recommend that you:

  • Add fiber and whole grains to your diet.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Eat smaller portions and more frequent meals.
  • Eliminate foods that bother your stomach.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Take in more vegetables.

For most people, life after gallbladder removal goes back to normal quickly. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to keep your digestive system healthy.

American Gastroenterological Association, Gallstones, Link.

MedlinePlus, Gallbladder Cancer, Link.

MedlinePlus, Gallstones, Link.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Eating, Diet & Nutrition for Gallstones, Link.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Treatment for Gallstones, Link.

UPMC, Cholecystectomy (Gallbladder Removal Surgery), Link.

About UPMC

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