The gallbladder is a small pear shaped organ that lies in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen underneath the liver. It is connected to the common bile duct, which carries bile from the liver to the small intestine. Its function is to store the bile made by the liver. During meals a hormone signal causes the gallbladder to contract and empty extra bile into the intestine to help with digestion.
When a gallbladder is inflamed or contains stones, it cannot function in its usual fashion. Anyone can develop gallbladder disease, but it is more common in women and in people who are overweight or over the age of 35. There also appears to be a strong hereditary component to gallbladder disease.
Symptoms of gallbladder disease can include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, indigestion, bloating, fever, and occasionally jaundice. The abdominal pain is most commonly experienced in the right upper portion of the abdomen or just below the breast bone. It typically occurs after eating fatty or greasy food and may radiate to the back or into the chest. The pain of a gallbladder attack may be severe.
Ultrasound is the most useful test to detect gallbladder disease. Ultrasound can identify gallstones as well as determine if acute inflammation is present by evaluating gallbladder wall thickness, presence of surrounding fluid and size of the common bile duct. A hepatobiliary (HIDA) scan may also be used in some cases. CT scan may be helpful but it is less sensitive.
Patients who have gallstones should eat a low fat diet. This will not get rid of the gallstones but will help to decrease your symptoms. There is no medication or medical treatment that has proven to effectively dissolve gallstones.
In people who have gallstones and symptoms, it is usually recommended that your gallbladder, with all of the stones, be removed. The gallbladder is not a vital organ and absorption and digestion can continue normally after it is removed.
Surgery – Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy
Removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) is one of the most commonly performed operations. It is performed using general anesthesia, so you won’t be aware during the procedure. Anesthesia drugs are given through a vein in your arm. Once the drugs take effect, your health care team will insert a tube down your throat to help you breathe. The surgery is usually performed by laparoscopy, in which a camera is inserted through a small incision at the navel and used to view the gallbladder. Narrow instruments are inserted through three other small incisions. Carbon dioxide gas inflates the abdomen and creates space in which to work. The gallbladder is freed up and removed. A cholangiogram (x-ray test of the bile ducts) is frequently done as well. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy takes one to two hours.
Laparoscopic cholecystectomy isn’t appropriate for everyone. In some cases your surgeon may begin with a laparoscopic approach and find it necessary to make a larger incision because of scar tissue from previous operations or severe inflammation.
You’ll be taken to a recovery area as the anesthesia drugs wear off. Recovery varies depending on your procedure:
- Laparoscopic cholecystectomy. People are often able to go home the same day as their surgery, though sometimes a one-night stay in the hospital is needed. In general, you can expect to go home once you’re able to eat and drink without pain and are able to walk unaided. It takes about a week to fully recover. You can resume usual activities over the 3 to 5 days following surgery but should avoid strenuous activities for 2 weeks.
- Open cholecystectomy. Expect to spend two or three days in the hospital recovering. Once at home, it may take four to six weeks to fully recover.
You should also avoid greasy or fatty foods for two weeks. You should follow-up with your surgeon 2-3 weeks after surgery
Cholecystectomy carries a small risk of complications including:
- Bile leak
- Blood clots
- Heart problems
- Injury to nearby structures, such as the bile duct, liver and small intestine
Your risk of complications depends on your overall health and the reason for your cholecystectomy.
Our cholecystectomy patients come to us from Burlington, High Point, Greensboro, Kernersville, Winston-Salem and bordering communities.