Gallbladder Removal (Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy)

The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped pouch in the upper-right part of your abdomen (tummy). It stores bile, which is the digestive fluid produced by the liver that helps to break down fatty foods.

Bile is made from cholesterol, bile salts and waste products. When these substances are out of balance, small, hard stones called gallstones can form.  Gallstones often cause no symptoms and, in many cases, remain undetected. However, in a small number of cases, gallstones can become trapped in a duct (an opening or channel), irritate and inflame the gallbladder, or move out of the gallbladder and into other parts of the body.  This can lead to a range of symptoms, such as:

• a sudden intense pain in your abdomen
• feeling and being sick
• jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes)

For most people with painful gallstones it is recommended that their gallbladder is removed.

What happens?

Three to four small cuts (each about 1cm or less) are made in your abdomen. One cut will be by the belly button and the others will be on the right side of your abdomen.  Your abdomen is inflated using carbon dioxide gas. This is harmless and makes it easier for your surgeon to see your internal organs.

A laparoscope (a long thin telescope with a tiny light and video camera at the end) is inserted through one of the cuts in your abdomen. This allows your surgeon to view the operation on a video monitor.  Using special surgical instruments, your surgeon will then remove your gallbladder. After the gallbladder has been removed, the gas in your abdomen will escape through the laparoscope.  The cuts in your skin are closed with dissolvable stitches and covered with dressings.

The operation takes 60 to 90 minutes and is usually carried out as a day case, so you can go home that day. After leaving hospital, most people are back to normal, including working and doing gentle exercise, within 7–10 days.

Side-effects

Side effects after a cholecystectomy are usually temporary and mild. They may include:
• Feeling sick. You may feel sick as a result of the anaesthetic or painkillers you have been given. This should pass quickly.
• Pain in the abdomen and shoulders. This is a result of the gas used to inflate your abdomen and should pass after a couple of days. Painkillers can be taken to relieve any pain or discomfort.
• Diarrhoea. This can come from bile irritating your digestive system. Eating high-fibre food such as brown rice and wholemeal bread will help to firm up your stools. Your consultant may also be able to prescribe a firming agent to help.

Are there any risks?

Removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) is a relatively quick and safe procedure but, like all operations, there is a small risk of complications:

• Pain
• Bleeding
• Infection
• Scarring
• Blood clots (deep-vein thrombosis)
• Injury to the bile duct
• Injury to intestine, bowel and blood vessels
• Retained stones

Ask your surgeon to explain in more detail how any risks apply to you.