Surgical removal of the gallbladder (tangohanga kouawai) is the most common way of treating troublesome gallstones.
The procedure to remove the gallbladder is called a cholecystectomy and is what is termed 'keyhole surgery', using small incision points. The good thing about this is that you can usually go home on the day of the operation or the morning after and any pain can be treated with paracetamol or anti-inflammatory medications.
Once the gallbladder has been removed, most people make a full recovery and function normally. However, about 4% of people become intolerant to fatty foods and may have to eliminate them from their diet.
Until about 20 years ago, gallbladder surgery could only be done as open surgery. This is a much bigger operation, takes longer to recover and has more complications. Sometimes, open surgery is still needed to remove the gallbladder. This can be due to scarring or adhesions from previous surgery, pregnancy, obesity or difficulty of the surgery at the time of the operation. Recovery from open cholecystectomy can take an average of six weeks.
If you need a cholecystectomy, your surgeon will discuss what type of surgery will be best for you.
Risks & complications
As with any surgery, there are possible risks and complications. Discuss these with your surgeon. Check what your risk is for each of the following:
- anaesthetic complications
- bleeding (haemorrhage)
- wound infection
- injury to the bile duct or liver
- pain and or numbness around the area of incision
After surgery, key symptoms to watch out for are:
- fever or chills
- increasing pain or redness around the incision
- jaundice (yellow tinge to your eyes due to high levels of bilirubin in your bloodstream)
- drainage from the incision site(s).
If you get any of these, contact your doctor straight away.
Keus F, Gooszen HG, van Laarhoven CJ. Open, small-incision, or laparoscopic cholecystectomy for patients with symptomatic cholecystolithiasis. An overview of Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Group reviews. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(1):CD008318.