What is a cholecystectomy?
A cholecystectomy is surgery to remove your gallbladder.
The gallbladder is a small organ under your liver. It is on the upper right side of your belly or abdomen. The gallbladder stores a digestive juice called bile which is made in the liver.
There are 2 types of surgery to remove the gallbladder:
Open (traditional) method. In this method, 1 cut (incision) about 4 to 6 inches long is made in the upper right-hand side of your belly. The surgeon finds the gallbladder and takes it out through the incision.
Laparoscopic method. This method uses 3 to 4 very small incisions. It uses a long, thin tube called a laparoscope. The tube has a tiny video camera and surgical tools. The tube, camera and tools are put in through the incisions. The surgeon does the surgery while looking at a TV monitor. The gallbladder is removed through 1 of the incisions.
A laparoscopic cholecystectomy is less invasive. That means it uses very small incisions in your belly. There is less bleeding. The recovery time is usually shorter than an open surgery.
In some cases the laparoscope may show that your gallbladder is very diseased. Or it may show other problems. Then the surgeon may have to use an open surgery method to remove your gallbladder safely.
Why might I need a cholecystectomy?
A cholecystectomy may be done if your gallbladder:
- Has lumps of solid material (gallstones)
- Is red or swollen (inflamed), or infected (cholecystitis)
- Is cancerous
Gallbladder problems may cause pain which:
- Is usually on the right side or middle of your upper belly
- May be constant or may get worse after a heavy meal
- May sometimes feel more like fullness than pain
- May be felt in your back and in the tip of your right shoulder blade
Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills.
The symptoms of gallbladder problems may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider to be sure.
Your healthcare provider may have other reasons to recommend a cholecystectomy.
What happens after a cholecystectomy?
In the hospital
After the procedure, you will be taken to the recovery room to be watched. Your recovery process will depend on the type of surgery and the type of anesthesia you had. Once your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing are stable and you are awake and alert, you will be taken to your hospital room.
A laparoscopic cholecystectomy may be done on an outpatient basis. In this case, you may be discharged home from the recovery room.
You will get pain medicine as needed. A nurse may give it to you. Or you may give it to yourself through a device connected to your IV (intravenous) line.
You may have a thin plastic tube that goes through your nose into your stomach. This is to remove air that you swallow. The tube will be taken out when your bowels are working normally. You won’t be able to eat or drink until the tube is removed.
You may have 1 or more drains in the incision if an open procedure was done. The drains will be removed in a day or so. You might be discharged with the drain still in and covered with a dressing. Follow your provider’s instructions for taking care of it.
You will be asked to get out of bed a few hours after a laparoscopic procedure or by the next day after an open procedure.
Depending on your situation, you may be given liquids to drink a few hours after surgery. You will slowly be able to eat more solid foods as tolerated.
Arrangements will be made for a follow-up visit with your provider. This is usually 2 to 3 weeks after surgery.
Once you are home, it’s important to keep the incision clean and dry. Your provider will give you specific bathing instructions. If stitches or surgical staples are used, they will be removed during a follow-up office visit. If adhesive strips are used, they should be kept dry and usually will fall off within a few days.
The incision and your abdominal muscles may ache, especially after long periods of standing. If you had a laparoscopic surgery, you may feel pain from any carbon dioxide gas still in your belly. This pain may last for a few days. It should feel a bit better each day.
Take a pain reliever as recommended by your provider. Aspirin or other pain medicines may raise your risk of bleeding. Be sure to take only medicines your healthcare provider has approved.
Walking and limited movement are generally fine. But you should avoid strenuous activity. Your provider will tell you when you can return to work and go back to normal activities.
Call your provider if you have any of the following:
- Fever or chills
- Redness, swelling, bleeding, or other drainage from the incision site
- More pain around the incision site
- Yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
- Belly or abdominal pain, cramping, or swelling
- No bowel movement or gas for 3 days
- Pain behind your breastbone