Why remove the gallbladder?
Usually the gallbladder needs to be surgically removed to treat gallstones that are causing blockages, jaundice, pain or fever. This common procedure is, in most cases, carried out using keyhole surgery also known as a laparoscopic cholecystectomy.
Although the gallbladder releases bile into the intestine to help digestion, the body can function perfectly well without it.
Gallbladder removal is usually carried out when alternative methods of dissolving gallstones are inappropriate or ineffective. These may include the use of medicines, endoscopic removal or the breaking up of stones using ultrasound waves.
What happens during surgery?
The patient is placed under general anaesthetic before the operation takes place. A hollow needle is then inserted into the abdomen to inflate it. Another incision is made in the stomach for the laparoscope which allows the surgeon to monitor the operation on a video screen.
Two other small incisions are made for the surgical instruments and the gallbladder is removed. Each of the four incisions (approximately three centimetres long) are then stitched.
Getting the most out of your consultancy
Prior to your surgery you will have a consultation with the surgeon who will ask about your medical background and any relevant previous treatments.
You have to make an informed decision before signing the consent form so make sure you ask plenty of questions. You want to feel relaxed, confident and completely understand what will happen during surgery.
You may want to know:
- About the surgeon’s qualifications.
- How many operations of your procedure are carried out each year.
- How you prepare for the surgery.
- What realistic results can be expected and when.
- About the side-effects and possible complications.
- How long it will take to recover.
- About the extent of scarring and how it will change in time.
- What happens if anything goes wrong.
Preparing for surgery
- Avoid alcohol, aspirin, garlic and food oils a least a week before surgery as they can cause excessive bleeding.
- Do not eat or drink anything six hours before your general anaesthetic.
- The surgeon and anaesthetist need to know your medical history and if you are on any medication.
- You will be advised of any health checks or X-rays required before your procedure.
- Prior to your procedure you will meet your surgeon who will assess and discuss your queries.
- Try and give up smoking a couple of weeks before your procedure as it interferes with healing processes.
With keyhole surgery you will probably only have to stay in hospital for one or two nights.
When you come round from the anaesthetic there is the chance you will feel some discomfort and painkillers will be prescribed. You are highly likely to have a drip in your arm to avoid dehydration.
Your surgeon will see you to check when you can be discharged. Bandages or dressings are normally removed after one to five days.
Avoid alcohol, aspirin, garlic, food oils and smoking. All of these can interfere with the body’s healing processes.
Road to recovery
- Continue taking painkillers if you need them.
- Depending on the surgeon’s advice, dressings or bandages may have to be worn for some time.
- If the surgeon recommends that you take medication such as antibiotics, make sure you complete the course.
- Your treated area is likely to feel sore during the first couple of weeks, so get plenty of rest.
- The surgeon will tell you when to return to physical activity.
- You must contact your surgeon if any of the wounds start to bleed or become excessively painful.
- Inform the surgeon if your stomach swells abnormally or if you develop a fever.
- If you are in doubt about any of the post-operative effects speak to your surgeon.
All surgery carries an element of risk
Before you sign the surgery consent form you should be aware of any possible complications and side effects.
Complications associated with any type of surgery include problems healing, the danger of infection and the potential formation of clots that may be life-threatening. Excessive bleeding or bleeding under the skin, known as a haematoma, could require a return visit to the surgery. Some patients may also have an allergic reaction to anaesthesia. In a minority of cases there could be a problem with fluid loss or an excessive build up of fluid that needs to be drained.
Deciding on laproscopic cholecystectomy
It is important that you take your time to make an informed decision about this type of surgery. Complications are rare as this is a very common operation, however you must consider any potential outcome.
- After a successful operation you may feel sick due to the anaesthetic and bruises formed by the procedure may take several weeks to heal.
- There will be scars left by the incisions.
- Rare complications include potential damage to other organs, blood vessels or the bile duct.
Complications are rare and depend greatly on individual circumstances such as a person’s health and the extent of the procedure. Your surgeon will be able to explain how the risks apply in your circumstances.