Cholecystectomy is a common surgery to remove the gallbladder. You might need this surgery if you have pain from gallstones.

Often, your gallbladder can be removed during a same-day surgery where you don’t need to spend a night in the hospital.

Most gallbladder removal surgery is laparoscopic. This means it’s minimally invasive or doesn't require a large incision (open cholecystectomy). In laparoscopic surgery, your doctor makes four small incisions (cuts) to insert equipment – surgical tools and a miniature video camera. Your gallbladder is removed through one of these incisions.

If laparoscopic surgery isn’t right for your situation, you will have a larger incision (cholycystectomy) and spend two to three nights in the hospital.

Why it is Done

You might need cholecystectomy if you have:

  • Gallstones in your gallbladder (cholelithiasis)
  • An inflamed gallbladder (cholecystitis)
  • An inflamed pancreas (pancreatitis)
  • Gallstones in your bile duct (choledoncholithiasis)

Gallstones can come back. The only way to prevent gallstones is to remove the gallbladder.

What to Expect

Before you have surgery to remove your gallbladder:

  • You will drink a liquid to clean out your intestines. This happens in the days leading up to your surgery.
  • Do not eat or drink for about six hours before surgery.
  • Stop taking your medications. Your doctor tells you what to avoid.
  • Anesthesia is given through an IV in your arm to make you sleep during surgery.
  • If your surgery is laparoscopic (minimally invasive), you’ll have four small incisions. Your doctor inserts the instruments and removes your gallbladder through these incisions. A device equipped with a camera allows your doctor to see what is inside with pictures projected on a monitor during the surgery. This surgery takes one to two hours. The anesthesia must wear off before you can go home. It takes about a week to fully recover.
  • If you need to have an open cholecystectomy, your gallbladder is removed through a 6-inch incision in your abdomen. This surgery takes one to two hours. You spend two to three nights in the hospital, and it takes four to six weeks to fully recover.
  • You might have some temporary diarrhea after cholecystectomy.

You don’t always know in advance if you need traditional open surgery (large incision) to remove your gallbladder. Sometimes your doctor can’t determine this until the operation begins. An open incision requires you to stay in the hospital for at least one night.

Even if you get to go home the same day, you won’t be able to drive yourself.

What the Risks Are

Cholecystectomy is a generally very safe surgery. Complications can include:

  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Infection, including pancreatitis
  • Bile leak
  • Hernia at the incision
  • Numbness
  • Injury to the bile duct, small intestine or liver
  • Pneumonia

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