Cholecystectomy (Gallbladder Removal)
Surgical removal of the gallbladder is one of the most common operations performed by the NHS. More than 60,000 gallbladder removals are performed each year.
The medical term for gallbladder removal is cholecystectomy.
Why does my gallbladder need to be removed?
The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped pouch in the upper right part of your abdomen (tummy). It stores bile, the digestive fluid produced by the liver that helps to break down fatty foods.
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.
However, in a small number of cases gallstones can become trapped in a duct (an opening or channel), 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:
- a sudden intense pain in your abdomen
- feeling and being sick
- 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 and are rarely a viable option.
For most people with painful gallstones, it is recommended that their gallbladder is removed.
What happens during gallbladder removal surgery?
There are two main ways of removing a gallbladder.
- Laparoscopic (keyhole) cholecystectomy
This is the most common type of operation to remove your gallbladder. It involves using a tiny camera and surgical instruments that are inserted through small cuts (incisions) in your abdomen.
- Open cholecystectomy
In open cholecystectomy, the gallbladder is removed through one large incision in your abdomen. This technique is called open surgery. It is a more invasive operation than keyhole surgery. You need to be in hospital for longer and it takes longer to recover.
Open surgery is now usually only used if there are medical reasons 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 (this is known as conversion).
Both techniques are usually carried out under a general anaesthetic, so the person having the operation is asleep during surgery and will feel no pain.
Recovering from gallbladder removal surgery
It doesn’t take long to recover from laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Most people can leave hospital the same day or the next morning. You can get back to normal activities within two weeks and it should be safe to do strenuous exercise after a month.
It takes much longer to recover from an open cholecystectomy. It may be three to five days before you can leave hospital, and it could be six weeks before you are feeling back to normal.