Gallbladder Surgery – Preparation and Recovery

Once you and your doctor have determined that you need gallbladder surgery, you’ll probably have some questions about how to prepare and what to expect during the recovery period. To some extent this will depend on whether you have an open cholecystectomy – the medical term for gallbladder surgery – or a laparoscopic procedure. Here are some considerations.

Open vs Laparoscopic Surgery

The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ in the upper right of the abdomen. Although its only known purpose is to store bile manufactured by the liver, you can actually manage just fine without it. The most common reason for gallbladder surgery is because stones have developed and are causing pain or infection.

  • An open procedure, as the term implies, means a single incision about five to seven inches long on the right side of the abdomen. The surgeon lifts the gallbladder out through the incision, ties off the bile duct from the liver to the gall bladder and closes the incision with staples or stitches.
  • Laparoscopic surgery is usually the preferred method, as it only requires several small incisions and is an outpatient procedure.

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Preparing for Gall Bladder Surgery

Prior to your operation, you and your doctor should have a discussion about the procedure. You’ll learn about the surgery itself and potential risks or complications, and sign an informed consent. Your doctor will review all of your current medications and may tell you not to take certain meds like anti-coagulants (“blood thinners”). You must avoid any food or drink for at least eight hours prior to the procedure – not even water. Arrange for a driver, as you won’t be able to drive yourself home. You should also be prepared to stay longer if the laparoscopic surgery becomes an open cholecystectomy, which sometimes happens.

Recovering from Gall Bladder Surgery

The recovery period for a laparoscopic cholecystectomy is usually shorter than for an open cholecystectomy. No special diet is needed in either case.

  • Laparoscopic surgery means several small incisions, which typically require only one or two staples or stitches and a band-aid.
  • You can resume your normal activities – with the exception of strenuous exercise – within seven to 10 days.
  • You may notice some discomfort under the diaphragm for several days – this is caused by gas pumped into the abdomen during the procedure and is normal.
  • Expect to spend two to four days in the hospital after an open cholecystectomy; it will take four to six weeks for full recovery.
  • Your stitches or staples will be removed after about a week.

Gallbladder surgery can make a big difference. Abdominal pain and nausea should be a thing of the past.