Life After Gallbladder Removal Surgery
If you are reading this, your doctor has likely recommended that you have a gallbladder removal procedure. If that is the case, you have probably been feeling unwell for some time now and are relieved to have a diagnosis. It is perfectly normal to have some reservations about having an organ removed, though, so here is an idea of what to expect from surgery and what happens to your body without a gallbladder.
How is the gallbladder removed?
These days, gallbladder removal is a much less invasive type of surgery than it used to be. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy is the standard gallbladder surgery now, and it involves just a few small incisions in the abdomen for inserting a small camera and surgical instruments; taking around an hour to complete. Newer procedures have even been done with a single incision at the belly button.
People are normally released from the hospital the same day as their gallbladder surgery, but it takes about a week to recover completely.
Where does bile go when you don't have a gallbladder?
It still goes from the liver to the small intestine via the common bile duct. The gallbladder was just a holding tank for bile, in a more concentrated form. You still have a flow of bile, you just don't have your storage tank anymore.
What to expect right after gallbladder surgery
Digestive side effects
Many people experience bloating for a few days after surgery, and you may even feel it in your shoulders. This is normal and can be relieved with mild exercise, like walking. Constipation and nausea are not uncommon in the first few days (it should be noted that both can be caused by pain medication). A general lack of appetite is a frequently reported symptom following gallbladder surgery, and you may have diarrhea that lasts for a few days, or even weeks.
Other side effects
It will be painful to sleep on your side until you heal up a bit. Another side effect you may experience, though it may seem strange, is to have a cough for a few days after surgery; this is from the breathing tube that was in your throat. If it doesn't go away, see your doctor, as it can turn into a bacterial infection.
More on the Gallbladder
- What Happens During a HIDA Scan
A doctor will often order a HIDA scan if gallbladder problems are suspected, but an ultrasound shows no stones.
- Gallbladder Disease and Gallbladder Dysfunction
Gallbladder disease can mimic other conditions, like IBS and food intolerances, making it difficult to pinpoint the problem.
Possible long term gallbladder removal consequences
Many people experience mild diarrhea after the gallbladder removal, since more bile may be entering the intestines without it. This should resolve over time, and can be managed with medication and diet until then. Foods that worsen diarrhea should be avoided:
- Greasy foods
Scarring from your incisions will be minimal, as they are rather small. You can minimize the appearance of your gallstone surgery scars by applying vitamin E after they have completely healed, using sunscreen on them before sun exposure, and through gentle exfoliation.
Change in Diet
Digestion will be a bit more difficult without a gallbladder, so it would be helpful to stick to a low carb, high protein diet. Don't go whole hog on the legumes and higher fiber veggies right away, though; it's important to slowly increase your fiber intake over several weeks. Cooked vegetables are more easily digested than raw, so stick to those in the beginning. You may also need to eat smaller meals, more frequently throughout the day, rather than three large ones. An appropriate diet after gallbladder removal can be found here.
How Was Your Experience?
I had my gallbladder out, and:
Life without a gallbladder can be better!
Tip: don't believe everything you read. If you're like me, you've spent time scouring forums and comment sections where people have shared their gallbladder removal horror stories. Just remember that stories like these are not the norm; it is just that people without problems are less likely to complain in a public space.
Many people feel so much better once the gallbladder is removed. While some will now have to restrict certain foods, others will be able to eat anything they want. Everyone's experience is different. If you are still unsure, ask your doctor what the other options are for treating gallbladder disease. If he insists on surgery, but you don't feel sick enough to resort to that, then it's okay to seek a second opinion.
© 2013 Kat McAdams