Gallbladder removal surgery is a fairly common procedure. Also known as a cholecystectomy, can be carried out as an open surgery or as a laparoscopic procedure (keyhole surgery).
Recovery is an important part of gallbladder removal surgery, and you’ll want to make sure that you follow any aftercare advice given to you. To help you in the process, we’ve collated some top tips to help you with your gallbladder removal recovery, and so you can recover faster.
When does the gallbladder need to be removed?
The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ that helps to store the bile created in the liver. One of the most common issues that people face with their gallbladder is gallstones. Currently, experts are unsure of exactly why gallstones occur, but they think it’s most likely due to too much cholesterol and salt in bile that then becomes solid.
Sometimes gallstones won’t cause any symptoms. However, in other cases, gallstone symptoms can include a fever, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, jaundice, and even brown urine. If you experience these more severe symptoms of gallstones, your gallbladder will need to be removed.
However, if you have gallstones but no symptoms, surgery might not be needed.
How is laparoscopic gallbladder surgery done?
Laparoscopic gallbladder surgery is a minimally invasive way of removing the gallbladder. In this type of surgery, small incisions are made into the right side of the abdomen.
A laparoscope (a long, thin tube with a small camera attached to the end) is then inserted through one of these incisions. Once inserted, it allows the surgeons to see your digestive system on a screen in the operating room. Carbon dioxide can sometimes be pumped into the abdomen as well so that it inflates and gives the surgeons a better view.
Once the gallbladder is in view, it can then be removed with one more small incision before you are sutured up with either stitches or surgical glue.
For a laparoscopic gallbladder surgery, you’ll be put under general anaesthesia so that you’ll sleep through the whole thing. A tube will also be placed down your throat to ensure that you can breathe throughout the surgery too.
How long is the recovery after gallbladder surgery?
Generally, recovery from laparoscopic gallbladder surgery takes around six weeks in total. However, this is dependent on how well you implement your aftercare advice — not following your surgeon’s guidance carefully could really set you back.
After your surgery, you’ll want to make sure you:
- Avoid heavy lifting
- Drink lots of water
- Eat high-fibre foods to help keep your digestive system moving
- Walk a little bit every day to prevent blood clots
- Increase your activity slowly and at the guidance of your doctor
As long as your surgery doesn’t have any complications, then you should be able to drive within a week or two. You may be able to return to work after a week as long as you’re feeling up to it.
You may be advised to wait for up to two weeks before being physically or sexually active.
Recovery after gallbladder removal
When you’re recovering after your gallbladder surgery, the recovery period is crucial. You will experience some temporary side effects from the surgery, and they’ll often clear up within a week or two.
Some common side effects are:
- Swelling or pain at the site of the incision
- Shoulder and stomach pain
- Bloating, flatulence and diarrhoea
These side effects shouldn’t impact your daily life too much, but if they get worse, make sure you speak to your doctor. As with any surgery, there is a small chance of experiencing complications from gallbladder removal surgery.
Gallbladder removal aftercare
After you’ve had your gallbladder removed, you’ll need to ensure that you follow all the aftercare advice you get from your doctor. This is to help speed up your recovery and to support your body while it is healing.
Gallbladder removal wound care
Your wounds after surgery will need to be cared for properly. This means you need to keep it clean and dry, so you need to avoid showering for two days once you get home. When you do shower, make sure you only pat your wounds dry — never rub them.
You need to avoid submerging your wounds in water like you would in a bathtub for a few weeks as well, as this can cause complications with the healing.
You also want to make sure you don’t wear restrictive or tight clothing, as it can cause irritation to your wounds. After around seven days, you shouldn’t need to keep your wounds covered with a dressing, but you still need to keep them clean.
You’ll need to keep the incision sites clean too so you can avoid infection. Your doctor or surgeon will advise you on how best to clean it. Some light bleeding afterwards is normal, but if you are bleeding more than this, you should seek medical assistance immediately.
Gallbladder removal recovery diet
It’s important that you avoid constipation, which can put too much pressure on the incision sites. You can do this by eating foods high in fibre and drinking plenty of water.
Some high-fibre foods include:
- Beans and lentils
- Vegetables like carrots, beetroot, cauliflower and broccoli
- Brown rice
You also want to make sure you eat fat-free or low-fat dairy products so that your stomach can digest them easier.
It’s a good idea to keep a food diary too. This way, you can see which foods work better for you during your recovery period and you’ll know what to avoid.
Activity after gallbladder removal
Being physically active is vital when you’re recovering, but you don’t want to do too much too soon. Your doctor will advise you as to how much you can do when you’re still recovering, and it is recommended that you don’t push yourself any further than that — you may end up doing more harm than good.
The main activities you need to avoid include:
- Long car journeys – you don’t want to travel until you’re off your pain medication
- Driving – again, don’t drive until you’re off your pain medication
- Lifting – do not lift anything over 20lbs
- Sports and rigorous exercise – you’ll need to avoid these for at least a week
It can take around three to four weeks to return to your normal activities, depending on the time of surgery you have and your lifestyle (you might find it takes six to eight weeks if you have a more manual job). It is important to let your body recover naturally and not push yourself; otherwise, you might hinder your recovery. If in doubt, speak to your surgeon or GP for guidance.
Can you still get gallstones after having your gallbladder removed?
Even if you’ve had your gallbladder removed, there is a chance that gallstones can return. Some risk factors for developing gallstones again include obesity, pregnancy, rapid weight loss, and lack of exercise.
To avoid developing them again, you want to make sure that you manage your weight effectively by eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly.
When to see a doctor
If you start to experience any worsening pain or a wound that isn’t healing or is leaking pus, then you need to seek medical assistance right away as it could be infected.
If you feel a lot of pain in your abdomen that isn’t getting better, you should also see a doctor as soon as possible.
Mr Achal Khanna is an expert in gallbladder removal and recovery, so if you have any questions at all about your procedure and after, be sure to get in touch. Mr Khanna will be able to provide you with professional advice to help you on your recovery journey after gallbladder removal surgery.