gallbladder removal

Gallbladder Removal: Understanding the Procedure and Postoperative Care

CDHF

Written by: CDHF

Updated: February 6th, 2024

The gallbladder is a seemingly unassuming organ, and yet is integral to our digestive system. Your liver produces bile that helps you digest and absorb fat and fat-soluble vitamins. The gallbladder, located just under the liver, stores this bile and releases it into your intestine when you eat. Particles in the bile, usually cholesterol, sometimes stick together and form hard stones called gallstones. When gallstones or other complications arise, the removal of this small yet important organ becomes necessary. Let’s delve into the intricate process of gallbladder removal, known medically as a cholecystectomy, and the essential steps for a smooth recovery!

Understanding Gallbladder Removal

An estimated 2.5 million Canadians have gallstones, though in many people these stones remain “silent” and cause no problems. However, each year about 50,000 Canadians have their gallbladders removed1. Gallbladder removal is usually performed when gallstones obstruct the bile ducts or cause intense pain and inflammation.

Surgical Techniques for Gallbladder Removal

Two primary methods exist for gallbladder removal: laparoscopic and open surgery. Laparoscopic surgery is a more common approach which involves small incisions and a camera-guided procedure. A benefit to this method is that it results in minimal scarring and often has a shorter recovery time. Open surgery, a secondary method for gallbladder removal, is less opted for, but it may be necessary for complex cases or when laparoscopic methods aren’t feasible.

How long does it take to recover from Gallbladder Removal?

Following a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, most people can expect to return to their normal routine after approximately one to two weeks.2 Conversely, open surgery typically extends the recovery period to four to six weeks due to the larger incision and the nature of the procedure. It is normal to feel fatigued and weak post-surgery. For those who had a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, shoulder pain may occur and is normal. Following this surgery, some individuals may experience loose stools, commonly referred to as diarrhea. Typically, this diarrhea persists for a few weeks to a few months in most cases.

Postoperative Care: Recovering from Gallbladder Removal

Dietary Modifications After Surgery

After gallbladder removal surgery, it’s common for individuals to experience changes in digestion, in particular diarrhea as mentioned above. The gallbladder stores bile, which helps in the digestion of fats. Without the gallbladder, bile is less concentrated and flows continuously into the intestines, potentially causing a laxative effect. Additionally, if a high fat meal is consumed, sometimes there is not enough bile to effectively digest and absorb dietary fat. Smaller fat portions are more easily digested, while larger amounts may remain undigested, leading to symptoms like gas, bloating, and diarrhea.

Because of this, a gradual transition from clear liquids to low-fat, easily digestible foods is recommended. Some tips to help manage symptoms including diarrhea after you’ve had your gallbladder out are below2:

Over time, a return to a regular diet is possible for most people, with a focus on a balanced intake of fibre-rich, plant based, foods to aid digestion.

foods to eat after gallbladder removal

Physical Activity

You can resume the activities you enjoyed prior to surgery, but gradually re-introducing exercise into your routine is recommended. Light activities like short walks help prevent complications such as blood clots. Refraining from engaging in strenuous exercises for 10 to 15 days post-surgery, such as running or aerobics is important. Always speak to your healthcare provider before returning to more strenuous exercise if you are unsure.3

Many individuals typically go back to their work routine within 1 to 2 weeks.

Pain Management

You may experience some discomfort post-surgery. Your healthcare provider may prescribe pain medications to help managing pain. Be sure to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions on dosage and usage.

Regular Monitoring

After surgery, it is essential to schedule follow-up appointments with healthcare professionals to monitor your healing process, address any potential concerns, and to remove any surgical dressings or stitches.

Potential Complications

Although rare, complications like infection, bile leakage, or injury to neighboring organs may arise post-surgery. If you experience symptoms including a fever, severe abdominal pain or excessive bleeding, it is essential to seek medical attention immediately.

Embracing Wellness Post-Surgery

Gallbladder removal may seem daunting, but with proper care and guidance, a fulfilling life post-operation awaits. Empower yourself with the understanding of the procedure and embrace the journey to a healthier you.

Long-term complications are infrequent, enabling patients to resume their normal activities without significant hindrance. If you do continue to suffer from digestive symptoms 6 months or more after surgery, consult your physician and a registered dietitian, who can help to identify triggers and recommend a balanced diet. Be sure to follow your healthcare professional’s guidance to get back to your healthiest self!

In summary, gallbladder removal is a frequently performed procedure with a high success rate and relatively low risk of complications. By adhering to postoperative care guidelines, combined with personalized medical advice, you will be on track for a smooth recovery.

Reviewed by Lisa Spriet, RD NutriproCan Dietitians

References:

  1. Ontario Association of Gastroenterology. “Questions and Answers.” https://www.gastro.on.ca/resources/patient-information#Gallstones
  2. B Healthwise Staff. “Gallbladder Removal Surgery: What to Expect at Home”. My Health Alberta. (2020). https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Health/aftercareinformation/pages/conditions.aspx?hwid=ug3371
  3. National Health Service. “Gallbladder Removal, Recovery.” NHS. (2021). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gallbladder-removal/recovery/

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