Gallbladder removal surgery: Everything to know!

The gallbladder is a small pouch that is present under the liver. Gallbladder stores the excess bile secreted by the liver. Bile is the enzyme that plays a primary role in the digestion of fat. The contents inside the bladder can crystallize to form gallstones. The complications of the gallbladder and the gallstones requires a gallbladder removal surgery. 

  • Cholecystitis: It is the infection of the bladder due to stones. The symptoms are pain and fever, which can last for a few hours to a few days.
  • Pancreatitis: If the stones block the duct that drains our pancreas, it can lead to pancreatitis.  

Common symptoms of gallbladder problems

The episodes of pain last for 1-5hr. The mild pain can continue up to 24hr after a fatty meal.

  • Abdomen problem includes pain in the center or upper right region and tenderness of the abdomen. The pain also lasts for several hours.
  • Pain also increases with deep breathing.
  • The pain is usually dull and crampy. It worsens after a heavy meal, especially with fatty foods.
  • Indigestion symptoms are widespread with gallbladder complications. 
  • The usual color of the stool and urine– increased risk of jaundice
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Low grade to high-grade fever with chills is common.

Usually, about 90% of people face no distinct symptoms. 

Why gallbladder removal surgery?

Gallbladder removal surgery is necessary when you experience gallstone complications. The symptoms of gallstone problems include sudden and severe stomach and abdomen pain. Doctors can diagnose the condition with an X-ray or a CT scan or a HIDA scan

However, there are other dissolution methods to get rid of the gallstones– radiation and chemotherapy and shock wave lithotripsy. In this method, shock-waves are sent via the abdominal wall to break up the stones. Another way of dissolution includes contact dissolution– gallstone dissolving substances are sent into the bladder via an injection.

If you decide against the surgery, it is crucial to stay at a constant healthy weight with regular exercise. It is also vital not to lose weight rapidly. This weight loss with diet or fast can increase the risk.

In the case of repeated severe attacks, dissolution is not a solution. Doctors recommend gallbladder removal surgery. Your options are narrow if the doctors suspect pancreatitis and immune disorders. Risk increases with the onset of fever and jaundice symptoms.

Preparation for the surgery

Doctors will take a complete physical examination. Blood tests, chest x-rays, and EKG is performed to find any complications. Specific medications can increase the risk during or after the surgery. So, it is vital to share your medical history with your doctor. Medicines like blood thinners can affect your immune system worsening the complications. You also may have to fast- four hours before the surgery. Doctors prep the patient for the surgery after looking out for:

  • Allergic reaction
  • Any infection of the gallbladder
  • Excessive bleeding and blood clots
  • Damage to blood vessels
  • They also look out for heart complications before the surgery.
  • Injury to the small intestine
  • Pancreatitis risk

Laparoscopic surgery vs. open surgery

Laparoscopic surgery is often preferred over open surgery. In this method, the surgeon makes small incisions to send a small surgical instrument to remove the gallbladder.  The procedure takes about 1-2 hr. The incisions are less than an inch compared to the 5-7 long inch incision in the open surgery.

They can discharge the patient the same or the next day. Before discharge, the doctor makes sure the patient isn’t bleeding excessively or still experiences severe pain. It takes about a week or two before the patient can go back to his/her regular routine. 

Open surgery is the traditional method of gallbladder removal. In this method, the surgeon usually makes a large slanted or straight incision in the abdominal region. The surgeon then tries to move the tissues to expose the gallbladder. They remove the gallbladder after the surgeon has a clear view. The procedure typically takes more time than laparoscopic surgery. 

However, the patient is on general anesthesia the whole time and will not feel any pain. It takes longer for a person to discharge from the hospital. Additionally, it takes a couple of weeks before the patient can get back to his regular routine after open surgery.

What complicates laparoscopic surgery?

Inflammation near the gallbladder region and severely diseased conditions of the gallbladder makes laparoscopic surgery difficult. Previous abdominal surgeries can complicate the procedure. Laparoscopic surgery is the most frequent. However, anytime during the laparoscopic surgery, the surgeon can shift to open surgery if they can’t remove the gallbladder safely. Other complications (unable to see inside with a laparoscope, due to obesity or excess bleeding) during the surgery can also change the mind of the surgeon. 

What should you do after gallbladder removal surgery?

  • Avoid tight clothing that could press against the incision.
  • Call your doctor if the pain won’t subside even after two days of the surgery.
  • Consult a doctor if you have no bowel movement for two after the surgery.
  • Call your doctor immediately if there is considerable bleeding from the incision.
  • Look out for redness or swelling and bacterial infection at the site of the incision. 

Side effects of the surgery

  • Pain after surgery is common– Use painkillers to relieve pain, unless your doctor advises against it. Surgeons may also give you specific narcotics after the surgery. Although, some may need to use it for a few days after the surgery as well.
  • You may also face difficulty digesting fat. Indigestion is a common side-effect.
  • Excess fat and less fiber can also cause indigestion. Indigestion can cause stomach pain due to gas.
  • The bile leakage due to lack of gallbladder can result in loose stools. Brown rice can help you firm the stools.
  • Exercise and walk regularly. Don’t push too hard.

Living without a gallbladder

Usually, gallbladder removal will not severely affect a person. The liver can still make enough bile to digest fats; it won’t be stored along the way. The bile can always reach your small intestine. You may experience nausea, diarrhea, or bloating for a few days after the surgery. Taking your current condition into consideration, you will be given a specific diet. The best diet in most of the cases includes a balanced diet. Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and constipation.

Diet after the gallbladder removal surgery

  • The medical team will help your transition from liquids to solids.
  • Consume mostly liquids at home soon after discharge, and move to a solid diet gradually. Eat small meals. 
  • Avoid high-fat foods– fried food, dairy products, meat, chicken or turkey.
  • Prefer a high fiber diet for proper digestion– whole grains, sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower.
  • Avoid processed food — cookies, cakes, cinnamon, sugary cereals.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Prefer nutrient and vitamin dense fruits and vegetables.

In other words, a vegetarian diet is a good fit.

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