What You Need to Know about Gallbladder Removal, Recovery, and Diet

Published
February 3, 2021
By
William Hanner D.O.

Having your gallbladder removed? You are not alone. As many as 70-80% of people who suffer from gallstones eventually need surgery to remove their gallbladder. If you find yourself getting ready to have this procedure, you are probably wondering what to expect before, during and after surgery. The good news is, most people recover quickly and find it relatively easy to adapt to life without their gallbladder. 

Here is a closer look at what you can expect, how to recover, and what lifestyle changes you will want to make after your gallbladder surgery.

How to Know You Need Your Gallbladder Removed

Most people opt to have their gallbladder removed due to problems caused by painful gallstones. These stones are formed when your liver produces too much cholesterol, and it builds up into solid crystals that can block your bile duct, causing pain, nausea, changes in bowel movements, food intolerances and other symptoms.

Once gallstones form, they are hard to treat. They do not normally dissolve on their own, and medications to break them up can take years to work—and may not work at all. Your symptoms may grow worse and develop into jaundice or acute pancreatitis, which sometimes can be life-threatening. Removal of the gallbladder may be necessary to resolve your symptoms completely.

If you are suffering with gallstones or have signs of pancreatitis, your doctor will work with you to determine the best course of treatment for you.


How to Prepare for Gallbladder Surgery

So, what happens when you decide to have your gallbladder removed?

Your doctor will give you specific instructions to help you get ready for a successful surgical procedure. Be sure to ask plenty of questions so that you feel comfortable with the steps you should take pre-surgery.

Among the things you should plan to discuss with your surgeon are:

Medications

Make sure your doctor is aware of any and all medications you are currently taking. You may be instructed to stop certain medications, such as blood thinners, for several days before the procedure. 

Food and Drink

You will want to avoid consuming food and drinks several hours before the procedure. If there are medications the doctor instructs you to take as usual, you may do so with a small sip of water.

Clothing 

Plan to wear comfortable, easy to remove and put on items of clothing, such as relaxed, elastic waisted sweatpants; a casual, button-up shirt; and slip-on shoes.

Overnight Bag

Gallbladder removal is normally an outpatient procedure, but it is a good idea to bring a bag of personal items, such as a change of clothes and your toothbrush, in case an overnight hospital stay is necessary.

Help from Family/Friends

You will need to find someone to drive you home after the procedure is completed. In addition, you should ask a friend or family member to stay with you for 24 hours after the survey to assist you as you recover.


What Happens During Gallbladder Surgery

Gallbladder surgery is performed under general anesthesia, which is administered through a vein in your arm as well as inhaled gases. The procedure itself will highly likely be performed laparoscopically (>95%) or as open surgery.

Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy

In this minimally invasive procedure, your doctor will make four small incisions in your abdomen and use a tiny video camera and surgical tools to remove your gallbladder.

Sometimes an X-ray or ultrasound may also be performed during surgery to look for gallstones or blockages in your bile duct. Once the procedure is done, you will be brought to the recovery area. The surgery is usually completed in one to two hours.

Open Cholecystectomy

If a laparoscopic procedure is not appropriate for you, open surgery may be performed instead. Some issues that may make you a candidate for open surgery include blockage of the duct by a very large stone, significant existing scar tissue in the abdomen, a highly inflamed gallbladder, severe obesity, or bleeding problems that occur during the laparoscopic procedure.

A 6-12 inch incision will be made in your abdomen just below your right side ribs. Muscle and tissue will be pulled back to allow the surgeon to remove the gallbladder. The incision will then be closed, and you will be brought to the recovery room. This procedure normally takes one to two hours.

What Post-Surgery Recovery Is Like

Once the surgery is complete, you will be taken to a room so the anesthesia has time to wear off. After that, your recovery time will depend on your specific situation and the type of surgery you had.

After Laparoscopic Gallbladder Removal

You will be monitored until you are able to eat and drink without pain and can walk without aid. Many people are released to go home the same day as their surgery, while others may stay in the hospital overnight and go home the next day. 

You may have some pain at the incision sites, especially the umbilical surgical site. And some nausea for 24-48 hours after surgery is to be expected. If your recovery symptoms concern you, appear excessive or raise any questions at all, contact your doctor’s office immediately for advice. 

In general, patients get back to a normal routine in about 7 days after their laparoscopic procedure. During that time, it is a good idea to get up and move about often. Ask your doctor about any activity restrictions you need to be aware of - such as lifting weights.

After Open Gallbladder Surgery

Open surgery is a more involved procedure, which means you will likely stay in the hospital 2-3 days to recover before being sent home. After that, you can expect to take 4-6 weeks to fully recover. You will want to talk to your doctor to know more about what activities to avoid during your recovery process—such as whether it is okay to lift heavy objects.

What to Eat—and What to Avoid—After Gallbladder Removal

Most people recover well from having their gallbladder removed. Since the gallbladder is not essential for digestion, there is no specific gallbladder surgery diet, but you may still benefit from changing your diet somewhat to avoid bloating and discomfort.


Immediately after Surgery

It is a good idea to ease into your food choices after your gallbladder is removed to give your body time to recover as you learn what works best for your diet. Your doctor may give you specific instructions that you should follow, such as beginning with liquids first and slowly adding solid foods back into your diet.

Other tips to help you with your diet post-surgery include:

  • Eat several small meals throughout the day rather than a couple of large ones. This will aid in digestion and prevent gassiness and bloating
  • Choose low-fat, high-protein snacks rather than high-fat, sugary options.
  • Cut down on overall fats in your diet.
  • Substitute ingredients in recipes with lower-fat options, such as using applesauce instead of oil in cookie/cake recipes.
  • Eat more vegetables and fruits than meat, and consider going vegetarian for at least some of your daily meals.
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight.

Foods to Limit

After your gallbladder is removed, you should plan to cut down on:

  • Fatty meats such as steak, ground beef, pork, and bacon
  • Processed meats such as sausage and lunch meats
  • Dairy products such as whole milk, full-fat yogurt, full-fat cheese, butter, sour cream and ice cream
  • Processed sweets such as cookies, cakes, sugary cereals, and chocolate
  • White bread and other processed breads
  • Caffeine such as coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks
  • Alcoholic beverages

Foods to Enjoy

Fortunately, there are many good foods and drinks you can add to your diet post-gallbladder surgery. To boost your health and digestion, add these items to your diet:

  • Beans, lentils, peas, and other legumes
  • Potatoes (with skin)
  • Whole grain cereals and breads
  • Raw nuts and seeds
  • Leafy vegetables such as cabbage, kale, spinach and Brussels sprouts
  • Tomatoes
  • Citrus fruits
  • Avocadoes
  • Berries - strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries
  • Lean meats such as chicken and fish
  • Meat substitutes such as legumes and tofu
  • Low-fat products

Get Trusted, Compassionate Gallbladder Care

The outlook for patients who have gallbladder surgery is very positive. Most people do well after having their gallbladder removed, and they get back to a healthy lifestyle with relative ease. 

If you are suffering from abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, nausea and other symptoms, or if you know you have gallstones and are concerned they are getting worse, do not put off your symptoms any longer. Contact us for a consultation and get answers and compassionate, personalized medical care that will have you back on your feet and enjoying good health.


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