The medical term for gallbladder removal is cholecystectomy.
Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped pouch in the upper-right part of your abdomen. Your gallbladder collects and stores liquid, called bile, which helps your body to break down fatty foods and digest. Bile also helps your body to use some vitamins, such as vitamin A, D and E. Bile passes from your gallbladder into your intestine and is released from your gallbladder when you eat.
Your gallbladder may need to be removed if it becomes diseased or damaged, or if you have gallstones.
Bile is made from cholesterol, bile salts and waste products. When these substances are out of balance, small, hard stones called gallstones can form. Gallstones often cause no symptoms and, in many cases, remain undetected. In a small number of cases, gallstones can become trapped in a duct, irritate and inflame the gallbladder, or move out of the gallbladder and into other parts of the body. This can lead to a range of symptoms, such as:
- Sudden and intense pain in your abdomen
- Feeling nauseous and vomiting
- Jaundice – yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
There are several non-surgical ways to break down gallstones, but they are only effective in around less than 1 in 10 cases.
There are two main ways of removing a gallbladder.
Laparoscopic (Keyhole) Cholecystectomy
This is the most common type of operation to remove your gallbladder. Cholecystectomy is performed under general anesthesia, so the patient is asleep throughout the procedure.
An incision, approximately half an inch long is made around the umbilicus, three other quarter to half inch incisions are made, making a total of four incisions. Four narrow tubes, called laparoscopic ports, are placed through the tiny incisions for the laparoscopic camera and instruments. A laparoscope, which is a long thin round instrument with a video lens at its tip, is inserted through the belly button port and connected to a camera. The laparoscope provides the surgeon with a magnified view of the patient’s internal organs on a television screen.
Long instruments are inserted through the other three ports, which allow your surgeon to delicately separate the gallbladder from its attachments to the liver and the bile duct and then remove it through one of the ports from the abdomen. After the gallbladder is removed from the abdomen then the small incisions are closed
Cholecystectomy carries only a small risk of complications. In most cases, you can go home the same day of your operation.
At open cholecystectomy, a surgeon removes the gallbladder through one large incision in your abdomen. It is a more invasive operation than keyhole surgery. You may need to be in hospital for a little longer and recovery time is lengthened.
Open surgery is usually only used, should medical reasons indicate why laparoscopic cholecystectomy cannot be safely performed, or if the surgeon decides that it would be safer to switch to open surgery during the procedure, which is known as ‘conversion’.
Most patients go home the next day after a laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Some may even go home the same day the operation is performed. This compares with a 2 – 3 day stay following the open cholecystectomy procedure.
Patients will probably be able to get back to normal activities within a week’s time, including driving, walking up stairs, light lifting and work. Walking is encouraged.
Most patients are fully recovered and may go back to work after 7 days, depending on the nature of your employment, since patients who perform manual labour or heavy lifting may require 2 – 4 weeks of recovery.