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Gallbladder Removal: The Beginning and End of Being Pain Free

Updated on January 23, 2013

First, I'll fill you in on my pre-surgery story...

One day, when I was 23-years-old, I was sitting in my bedroom and had a sudden onset of excruciating cramping under the right side of my rib cage. I had no idea what was happening. All I knew was that I was in a lot of pain and all I could do was crawl onto the floor on my hands and knees and scream. Yes, scream. I started crying, was breathing really heavy, and was hoping for this pain to go away. During this period, I picked up my phone and managed to call my friend. I told her that I was pretty sure I needed to go to the emergency room. By the time she arrived at my house, the pain had begun to subside. This was about 20 minutes later. With the pain beginning to go away and me not having the slightest clue as to what just happened, I figured I would just let it go and hope for the best.

After the initial attack, I would say it took about a month or so for me to feel that cramping again. For months, each attack was never as bad as it was that first time. It would come and go and would be mild enough for me to stand it. Knowing my parents would probably just brush it off, I didn't tell them about it.

Then, about 6 months after that first attack, I got it bad. I was in my house and all-of-a-sudden, it started. OUCH! It came on strong and it came on fast. I remember it being around 9:00 at night when it began. I figured it would pass again since it had before. I waited, and waited, and it only continued to get worse. It felt like my muscles were squeezing so tight underneath my right rib cage that they were choking each other. I don't even know if that explains it, but it's hard to put into words just how bad it felt. This time, it continued long past 20 minutes and the pain began to shoot straight through to my back. I was feeling a horrible cramping, burning sensation in the front and a stabbing pain in the back. I was living in Florida at the time, with my family in New York, so I called them around 11:00 p.m. and said I was going to the emergency room. I tried to explain what was going on, but it's really hard to give details about something you don't have a clue about. I was hysterically crying and knew I needed help.

When I got to the emergency room, the lady sitting at the front desk immediately thought that it was my gallbladder causing the pain. She asked me to come around the back and lay on the cot behind her. There was not a single position that I could sit or lay in that would make the pain any better. Every time she told me to lay on the bed, I kept going back onto the floor and hovering over it on my hands and knees. I was crying and screaming the entire time. I was waiting there for 2 hours before I was given a room inside. It took another hour for the doctor to come in and see me. At this point my face and eyes were so swollen that when I looked in the mirror it looked as though my eyes were almost swollen shut. After he came in to see me, he finally gave me something to help with the pain (3 hours later). I had been in pain now for 5 hours and the attack never got any better until he gave me something to take. He told me that the ultrasound techs had gone home for the night and if I wanted to wait until 7 a.m. to get an ultrasound to confirm gallstones, I could. I figured that I had been there for so long already that I might as well wait to get confirmation.

When 7 a.m. rolled around, I was finally able to get the ultrasound done. Lo and behold, they confirmed gallstones. I was told that I should visit a gastroenterologist for a follow up appointment and discuss with him/her what should be done next. I didn't run to the doctor because I had a lot going on at the time with my college graduation coming up.

It was about a week later (the night before my college graduation and my parents were down from New York) when I got another attack. I didn't think there could be any worse of a time for this to happen. I did not want to have a bad night's sleep the night before my graduation ceremony. Thankfully, my mother had the idea of running to the store to pick up a heating pad. I definitely think that it helped a lot with the pain. This attack lasted about 2 hours, but the pain wasn't any easier to bare than the last time.

The day after my graduation I flew up to New York. The very next day I went to see the gastroenterologist and he told me that because I was only 23-years-old and having such bad, frequent attacks, that I should have my gallbladder removed. He told me that there were other options that required me to drink some kind of liquid to dissolve them but that they would always return. He figured that if my gallbladder was this bad off already, that things would only get worse and I could end up with other problems. He sounded so sure that this is what I should do, that I thought he was right and I listened. I went in for surgery a week later.

No one told me what I would be in for after having my gallbladder removed.

Before going in for surgery, everyone was telling me that gallbladder surgery was nothing. It is done so often and to so many people, that it wasn't a big deal. No one ever told me how much pain I would be in when I woke up. I wish they had warned me.

When I woke up from surgery, my entire abdomen was killing me. I've been told that during the surgery, they have to blow air into you to move your organs around, and after the surgery is over, some of that air gets trapped inside of you. I'm not sure if that was the sole cause of the pain that I was in, but it was bad. I remember it took the nurse a while to come and give me anything. I think that was because I still needed some of the anesthesia to wear off. I remember that when I got up to use the rest room, I could barely stand up straight and everything hurt. Even while laying in the bed, there was no position I could lie in that eased the pain, even a tiny bit. I was also feeling a lot of pressure in my chest. It's so hard to describe the actual feeling I had in my abdomen, but trust me when I tell you that was something I was not expecting one bit and it is not something I would ever want to feel again.

After arriving back home, I was bedridden for a week. The doctor said I should move around a bit each day to help the air travel around and not get trapped in one place (which would cause more pain). I would get up to go to the kitchen or to the rest room, but other than that, I really didn't want to get out of bed. That is the first time in my life that I've ever been prescribed pain killers and actually took them as prescribed (every 4 hours). I would sit and watch the time wondering how much longer it would be until I could take another pill. Even while on Vicodin, I was still in a lot of pain for the first few days.

I was told to eat a bland, low fat diet for the next 6 months. Of course I didn't stick to that as well as I should have. It's really hard to just change your diet just like that. I would say for the first 3 or 4 months I felt fine, even while eating fatty foods. After the first couple of months, I started getting a burning, cramping sensation under my rib cage in the same place that my gallbladder used to be. Sometimes the burning would go straight through to my back. The feeling would usually last about an hour or so. I never figured out what caused them to come on. This cramping and burning would happen almost every day for about a year. I thought taking the gallbladder out would've resolved any pain I had in that area...I was wrong. Sometimes the burning and the discomfort along with it would get so bad that I wouldn't want to do anything other than sit down and wait for it to pass. After those phantom attacks stopped coming on daily, I thought all of my issues were gone, but they weren't.

After those attacks stopped being so regular, I started noticing that I would have to run to the bathroom after eating certain foods (something I had never had to do in the past). Sometimes it would be so bad that I didn't think I would make it to the rest room. The next side effect I started noticing was gas. Sometimes I would feel gas come on almost immediately after eating (another issue I never had before). So now, with my gallbladder out, I was having issues that I never had before, and these weren't just small problems, they were embarrassing and frequent. When the gas and urgency seemed to go away, I thought I was in the clear, again.

Wrong.

A couple of months later it flared up again. I would eat and immediately begin feeling gas build up in my abdomen. I could feel it moving around and very often I could even hear it. Talk about uncomfortable and embarrassing! It had gotten so bad that I began to have a sharp stabbing pain in my lower back. This time I went to a gastroenterologist to discuss what was going on and he told me that my organs were "distended". I looked it up and it means that your organs are so full of gas that they are enlarged. He even asked me if I was having back pain, which I was. He said it was because of my organs. He gave me some medication and told me I couldn't eat fatty foods or drink cold fluids for a week. I did as he said and I started to feel better. Unfortunately though, it never went away. The medicine dialed it down a bit, but it didn't cure me.

I have gas every single day, especially in the morning. Every couple of months I go through a flare-up where the gas is 10x worse and literally happening all day long. I still get a feeling of urgency on occasion. I feel like I am having more problems now than I ever had. And these side effects I'm having are so embarrassing and debilitating at times, that I wish I would have never had my gallbladder taken out. I would much rather have to take medicine or drink some sort of fluid to dissolve the stones than go through life without my gallbladder. I wish someone would have told me the possible side effects.

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    • Funom Makama 3 profile image

      Funom Theophilus Makama 4 years ago from Europe

      Wow! This is so unique, lovely and well explained. I really appreciate your work and I hope to learn more from you. By the way, I want to specialize in surgery.

    • CALNY profile image
      Author

      CALNY 4 years ago from Busan, South Korea

      Thank you! I'm actually about to start writing an update on my life without a gallbladder. Hopefully it'll be up soon! Thanks for reading! And good luck with becoming a surgeon! :)

    • profile image

      Nicolle 4 years ago

      Hi I have gallstones been researching all this This was very informative as well Thank You sooooooo so much Your just wonderful & I will pray trhat You feel better soon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • CALNY profile image
      Author

      CALNY 4 years ago from Busan, South Korea

      Nicolle,

      I'm sorry to hear that you're going through this! I wish you all the best in figuring out the best approach and solving your issues. Good luck! And thank you very much. I hope I will too :(

    • profile image

      REdd5 4 years ago

      I found your posts from a Google search, and my wife is experiencing the exact same symptoms you mentioned! It has been well over a month since her gallbladder surgery, and we both think she is in worse condition than before the surgery. She experiences sharp pains on her side where the gallbladder used to be, radiant pain that travels to her back... it's an identical case. Did anything come of your colonoscopy in January? That's what the doctors are recommending to us now after running just about every other test they have. Our original surgeon/gallbladder specialist also gave up on us right after the surgery, saying its not his problem anymore despite visible swelling on her right abdomen and her constant pain. Best of luck to you and I hope there's a cure for this!

    • ajwrites57 profile image

      AJ 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      CALNY...I'm so sorry you have this problem. On January 2nd, I had a minor gall bladder attack. It hurt but not to badly. i had read about this problem a few months before--I was having a pain in my upper back. When it hit, searched the internet again and read about it as i sat there in pain. I had apple cider vinegar--one site said drink quarter cup. I did. The pain subsided in 15 minutes. I laid on my right side and was able to sleep. Since then, I've changed my diet. No read meat since then, some lean chicken and fish. I drink a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (Braggs Organic) a few times a day. I eat very few eggs and very little wheat. I take flax seed oil once day. I eat more olive oil on things. I read beans and oil breaks down the gallstones. I haven't had much of a problem since then. I'm just starting my experiment. Keeping my fingers and gall bladder crossed. Hope you feel better!

    • CALNY profile image
      Author

      CALNY 4 years ago from Busan, South Korea

      REdd5,

      I am so sorry to hear that your wife is going through the same thing! It's incredibly frustrating and uncomfortable. My colonoscopy came back clean; I don't even have signs of IBS, which I was starting to think I had! After I received the colonoscopy results, my doctor figured we would try antibiotics to see if maybe I had a bacterial overgrowth. This is something I had actually wondered about since a lot of my symptoms match that being the cause. The antibiotics helped a tiny bit, but unfortunately I'm still not cured. And the doctor told me that if the antibiotics didn't work, then "Oh well." So, apparently he has now given up on me as well. The only advice I can offer up is that as far as the pain goes, if she's anything like me, then hopefully that is only temporary. But, if her abdomen is swollen, I would probably worry about that! Unless her organs are distended as well. If she's also experiencing the other symptoms that I'm having, I have found that the peppermint capsules and tea found at www.helpforibs.com has helped me a bit, even though I don't have IBS. The prebiotics don't seem to be helping, but maybe I haven't taken them enough. I have also found that taking Beano right before I eat helps, but keep in mind that I've found it is much stronger if used as directed, meaning take it before the first bite, not after (which I've done many times due to forgetting). Anyway, good luck with everything! I wish your wife the best in her recovery! I hope she has better luck than I've had!

      ajwrites57,

      That's smart of you to try out all of these alternative methods before deciding whether or not you need to get your gallbladder removed. I hope for your sake that they work and that you'll never have to make that decision! I find it interesting that you've included not eating red meat and taking flax seed oil. For 2 years prior to my surgery, I would take flax seed daily and I happened to stop eating red meat for other reasons. I guess those 2 diet changes alone weren't enough for me. But, maybe it wasn't in my control anyway. It turns out my aunt had gallstones and that they can be genetic. Well, if you can, I'd love for you to keep me posted on your experiment. It would be great for other readers to see how you're doing as well, in case they would like to try it. Good luck with it! I hope you've found your answer!

    • ajwrites57 profile image

      AJ 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks for your good wishes! I forgot to mention I've been taking pro-biotics too in the form of synergydrinks--kombucha. I've been drinking one bottle a day. In addition, I take the apple cider vinegar 1 tablespoon in water a few times a day. Eating a lot more fruit and vegetables and soup. Maybe I can avert disaster...

    • CALNY profile image
      Author

      CALNY 4 years ago from Busan, South Korea

      I've never heard of that drink. Sounds interesting! It also sounds like you've given yourself quite a routine every day! I hope you're able to stick to it! I swear, whenever I think I've decided on a routine for whatever it's for, I'll stick to it for a few days and then start forgetting or lose interest.

    • ajwrites57 profile image

      AJ 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks for the kind wishes. I've been doing pretty well--almost a month now. Probiotics might be something to look into--improves digestion and might help with your stomach difficulties. (When I traveled to Asia several times, they plied me with so much rice, it caused me problems.) Not that you've asked, but this is a way to improve the benefits for rice--I used to do this a long time ago but forgot about it until now. theironyou.com/2011/11/brown-rice-soak-it-before-cooking

    • Neinahpets profile image

      Stephanie 4 years ago from Canada

      I remember when I had my gallbladder removed in 2004. I had been in a lot of pain and I actually let it go until it was inflamed. Worst thing anyone can do. I have the same problems. A good way to end this torment is to never eat spicy foods, greasy foods, no smoking, no drinking caffeine. I find that if I eat something that is processed I have to go to the restroom during the meal.

      Some good tips for the future from my experience 9yrs later:

      If you plan to eat out, make sure you have eaten something earlier in the day and have relieved yourself in the restroom or you will find that urge hitting you during a meal in a restaurant and find an even more embarrassing predicament having to go in public.

      Never drink soda pop, tea or coffee on an empty stomach.

      Quit smoking if you do. I'm 3yrs free of that.

      If you must have greasy or fried foods, make sure you know where the restroom is.

      And lastly that I can think of... Rolaids Chews are your friend for gas.

      Good luck!

    • JRGray profile image

      Jason R Gray 4 years ago from Falcon, Colorado

      The air pocket pain immediately after the surgery is no joke. Luckily I had a nurse that knew to wrap my upper torso in warm blankets, which helped as much as the morphine drip. I had my gallbladder out and my appendix out a couple years apart because of right side abdominal pain attacks. But after another attack even after the usual suspect organs were gone, the docs finally realized it was Acute Intermittent Porphyria. Exceedingly rare, and @Calny's symptoms are more like legitimate gall bladder disease. But folks coming upon this from google should look into AIP before letting organs get yanked willy-nilly like I did.

    • CALNY profile image
      Author

      CALNY 4 years ago from Busan, South Korea

      Ajwrites,

      That's interesting about how soaking rice makes it easier to digest! I mean, that makes sense, but wouldn't have thought of that on my own. Thanks for the tip!

      Neinahpets,

      I'm sorry to hear that you've had the same symptoms as me since having your gallbladder removed! It's absolutely horrible.

      I'm still having all of those symptoms, but I think between the cleansing procedure for the colonoscopy and the antibiotics the doctor gave me recently has helped a bit. Still not cured, but I think it did help.

      I appreciate all of the tips you've provided! Thank you for that! Good luck with everything and I hope you feel better at some point!

      JRGray,

      Oh no! That's terrible that you went through all of that just to find out that the culprit was something else! On the bright side though, at least you've found out what's wrong! You didn't mention having any issues since having your gallbladder removed, other than the immediate pain after the surgery, so I hope that's because you're not having any problems. If that's the case, you're lucky in that respect. Thanks for providing that information. That might end up helping someone who stumbles onto this page! Hope you're feeling better now!

    • profile image

      Anewton 4 years ago

      I am sorry to hear about all your problems. I too had my gallbladder removed when I was in my early 20's. it relieved the intense pain, but I, like you, developed severe gas. I was eventually diagnosed with celiac disease - come to find out there are now studies proving a link between gallbladder dysfunction and celiac disease. It was the celiac causing the gas, diarrea, and intestinal distress. Both my daughters have celiac and have had to have their gallbladders removed as teenagers (and we eat a VERY healthy diet). I am sharing this with you because you might want to look into celiac and eating a gluten free diet.

    • BirdCagedRecords profile image

      Mic Mechanic 4 years ago from Buffalo, NY 14207

      I am going through this too. I've put it off for 8 months. My attacks are sharp and relatively short lived. They feel like a heart attack in my upper right quad. I am much more concerned after reading this article and all the comments. Looks like I'll be seeing the doctor this week. Hopefully it's not enlarged and causing other issues. My father had his gall bladder removed. I turn 29 in August. I turned my diet around about 7 months ago but I don't know if that'll be enough to keep my gully. I appreciate this article. Thanks!

    • profile image

      Carissa 3 years ago

      I am so glad I found this article. I was thinking I am the only one to be discomforted all the time.

    • profile image

      Maggie 3 years ago

      I am currently waiting to have my gallbladder out and was looking to see if being cold all the time was another symptom but came across your post. I am shocked and appalled that no one's doctor has brought up bile acid diarrhea! You don't have IBS or celiac you are showing the exact symptoms of BAD. It's when your liver releases a ton of bile and you have no gallbladder to control it, bile is a very strong laxative. There are pills and powders for this and I've read that calcium pills can help a bit as well to bind the bile. There is hope there are so many people who have gone literally years with this undiagnosed with doctors that don't know about it. You don't have to be one of them research bile acid diarrhea and then go back to the doctor with the information in hand!!

    • profile image

      Maggie 3 years ago

      Ah I mis-typed the other night it's Bile Salt diarrhea (not bile acid). Sorry was on my tablet and was tired lol. Anyway I've linked one website talking about it but a quick google will give you a ton of links including ones from ibs websites where people talk about going through this for years until they were properly diagnosed.

      http://www.gihealth.com/html/education/bilesaltDia...

    • profile image

      Michele 3 years ago

      I have celiacs and gall stones - doc wants to remove gallbladder. REALLY concerned about not absorbing nutrients after gallbladder is removed but equally concerned about a stone getting stuck. Any celiacs out there who can comment about side effects after gallbladder removal? All advice welcome! Thanks in advance.

    • profile image

      Robin 3 years ago

      It sounds like you had a terrible time with your gallbladder, and thank you for sharing your story.

      However, I would like for readers to know that if you legitimately have a gallbladder problem, you might actually need the surgery. I nearly died when I had my gallbladder still in me, with my last deciding ER trip actually needing an oxygen tank as paramedics rushed me to the ER. I spoke with multiple doctors from different states (I go to college out of state), and they all came to the same conclusion: I was more likely to die with my gallbladder in me, then without it. I also doubt the greed of my doctors (as some people do with theirs, and I don't know, they might be right about their own doctors), as they recommended I have surgery with a surgeon back home to recover more comfortably. That means the doctors didn't get paid for my surgery, someone else did. Yet they still gave me advice.

      However, I still do have symptoms, pain and gas and all, but it's milder. I don't go to the ER anymore, and the pain is bearable enough to go to class. And now I can't die from my gallbladder, because it's not there. Don't treat anything from the internet as gospel--every person is different, and some people can have worse problems after, some better, or some may not have needed it at all. If you don't feel like your doctor is telling the truth, simply go to another one, or multiple ones until you're either convinced they've given enough evidence, or that you're not actually sick. Waiting around and thinking your gallbladder can heal can end up seriously hurting yourself.

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      Mel 2 years ago

      I say we need to talk because slowly I am getting better ad I am afraid to be too comfortable with me believing that I am. This pain in my chest felt and still but not as much feels like bubbles in my chest that can't pop and in my intestines. I also get burning that is worse with antacids. What is your email address?

    • profile image

      Heather 2 years ago

      I am 23 as well and just had my gallbladder removed a month after delivering my baby. My experience is almost identical to yours except I'm still on the bedridden stage. Gallbladder surgery is no joke-it sucks. Anyways-I was wondering if you've found any remedies that work for you now that you've learned to cope with all the new changes?! I'd like to be prepared for what sounds like torture!

    • profile image

      Nolana 2 years ago

      I just had my gallbladder removed four days ago. I did have to stay in the hospital longer though because I had complications and ended up having a tube with a bag coming out of my side up until yesterday when they sent me home. I am home now and trying to rest because there is still a pain from the surgery. It is hard to sit up and do a lot of normal things like getting into a vehicle. In the hospital they were only giving me jello, pudding, some disgusting stuff that was supposed to be oatmeal that i tried but didn't bother with and liquids. They told me to go slow so I have. I've been making some protein shakes because I was getting lightheaded not sure if it was from not eating enough or what because my blood pressure skyrocketed during the whole ordeal. I ate one piece of toast and an egg this morning and now I feel as though there is something stuck under my ribs or it will move when I lay down and not be as noticeable. I'm a little freaked out hope it's nothing major. Maybe it's gas like some people have said as I've been reading through other peoples experiences as well as this one.

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