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Gallbladder Surgery

The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ located in the right upper part of your abdomen. A healthy gallbladder stores bile which is made in the liver. When needed, the gallbladder squeezes the bile through ducts into the small intestine to help digest fatty foods. When the amounts of bile and other fluids in the gallbladder become unbalanced, some of the chemicals become solid and form gallstones. This is the most common gallbladder problem. Typical symptoms may include abdominal pain after eating accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and bloating.

After a thorough history and physical exam, an ultrasound may be obtained to help diagnose gallstones. This is a painless test using sound waves to scan your abdomen. Other tests may be needed to assess the gallbladder for function or the presence of other types of gallbladder disease.

Fortunately, you don't need your gallbladder to live a healthy life, so removal may be recommended to treat your symptoms. This is usually done by a procedure called laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Special instruments, including a camera and light source attached to a long thin metal tube, are inserted into your abdomen through small incisions while you are asleep. The gallbladder can then be removed from its location and taken out of your abdomen through one of these small incisions. Occasionally, this minimally invasive surgery may not be right for an individual and open surgery would be required.

Even though this operation is one of the most common operations performed and can be done safely, gallbladder surgery does have possible complications. Although uncommon, these may include excessive bleeding, infection, injury to the ducts or surrounding organs, and blood clots.

Most patients go home the day of laparoscopic surgery and recover in less than a week. The bile made by your liver will still flow into your intestine. Typically, after a short recovery, you should be able to resume eating all of the foods you enjoyed before your gallbladder problems.

At discharge from the hospital, you will be given a prescription for narcotic pain medication which should be used to supplement the over-the-counter pain medications that you have at home. Typically, patients can use acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®) to control most of their pain, using the narcotic for breakthrough or night-time pain. Remember, any narcotic can cause nausea and constipation. Milk of Magnesia can be taken if constipation becomes a problem. Of course, you should NOT drive, operate heavy machinery, or make life altering decisions while taking narcotic pain medications.

After surgery, it is advisable to stay on a bland diet for several days until you are feeling up to par. Meals with rice, pasta, thin soups, or chicken are good examples of such a diet.

You may remove the bandages and shower the day after surgery. The steri-strip tapes will remain in place until your follow-up appointment and should be thoroughly dried with a soft cloth after showering. You should NOT immerse in tub or pool until cleared to do so at your appointment.

Light cardiovascular exercise is encouraged but you should avoid heavy lifting. A follow-up appointment should be made approximately two weeks after surgery. At that visit, the operative findings will be reviewed, future limitations outlined, and releases for work or school completed. If your recovery progresses rapidly, you may return to work or school prior to your follow-up visit if your pain is relieved with non-narcotic pain relievers and you can perform your duties with minimal discomfort.