The main reason why your doctor may recommend surgery to remove your gallbladder are painful gallstones. Gallstones form when there is an imbalance in the substances that make up a digestive juice known as the bile. However, there might be other reasons why you might need to undergo a gallbladder removal. Today, the preferred procedure is laparoscopic surgery (laparoscopic cholecystectomy): with a minimally-invasive approach, a laparoscopic gallbladder removal carries a smaller risk of complications and has a shorter recovery time than traditional open surgery.
In this article, we are going to give you an overview of why you might need to have your gallbladder removed and how a laparoscopic gallbladder removal is performed.
Why have your gallbladder removed?
The gallbladder is a small pouch in the upper right abdomen, just below your liver. It collects and stores a digestive fluid produced by your liver called bile. Sometimes, the substances in the bile become solid, forming gallstones inside the gallbladder. These stones can be as small as a grain of sand or big as a golf ball. They can cause serious complications, making cholecystectomy necessary.
Gallstones can cause several symptoms that may indicate the need of a gallbladder removal, including:
- Jaundice (a condition where your skin turns yellow, which may indicate a bile duct blockage)
- Severe pain in your abdomen that may radiate to your shoulders or back
Here’s an overview of the reasons why your doctor may recommend a gallbladder removal.
Gallstones in the gallbladder (cholelithiasis)
This is the most common reason why a cholecystectomy is performed. Gallstones are hard particles that form when the substances in the bile become solid.
If gallstones move to the bile duct, they can potentially cause a blockage and the gallbladder cannot drain properly.
Inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis)
Cholecystitis is when your gallbladder is inflamed. This happens when the bile is trapped in your gallbladder as gallstones impede it to exit the organ.
Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
When the pancreas is inflamed as a consequence of gallstones, gallbladder removal may be recommended. The pancreas gets inflamed because gallstones block the pancreatic duct. Pancreatitis needs to be addressed immediately as it can lead to serious complications.
Biliary dyskinesia is when the gallbladder doesn’t empty the bile correctly due to a defect. While it is still unclear why it happens, this condition is fairly common.
What is a laparoscopic gallbladder removal?
Laparoscopic gallbladder removal is a procedure performed to remove your gallbladder with a minimally invasive approach. Laparoscopy involves making a few small incisions instead of one large incision. This way, the procedure is less invasive, the risk of complications is lower, and recovery is quicker. A laparoscopic gallbladder removal typically takes one to two hours.
Laparoscopic gallbladder removal is carried out under general anaesthesia, so you will be under a painless sleep through the procedure.
The surgeon starts the procedure by making the incisions in your abdomen, which will allow the introduction of the surgical instruments. Carbon dioxide will be pumped into your abdominal cavity to improve access. A tiny camera, or laparoscope, is also inserted to carry out the procedure. The next step involves the removal of the gallbladder. At the end, the surgeon will remove the carbon dioxide and close the incisions.
Right after the procedure, you may feel a bit bloated and somewhat uncomfortable. This is normal and you will be given pain medication to ease your recovery.
What can you expect from a laparoscopic gallbladder removal?
Removing your gallbladder can relieve the pain and discomfort caused by gallstones. While conservative treatments such as diet changes can’t stop gallstones from coming back, in most cases a laparoscopic gallbladder removal will prevent this from happening again.
The gallbladder is not an essential organ for a healthy digestion, so most patients will not have problems with digestion after their gallbladder is removed.
Before the procedure, your doctor might run a few tests to assess your overall health and see if you are fit to undergo the procedure. Tests for a laparoscopic gallbladder removal include blood tests, imaging tests of your gallbladder, and a complete physical.
Last but not least, just like any other surgical procedure, laparoscopic gallbladder removal carries a few complications. These include bleeding, infection, injuries to the bile duct, the liver or the small intestine, or a bile leak. General anaesthesia may also cause blood clots, pneumonia, or allergic reactions.
Am I a candidate for laparoscopic gallbladder removal?
A laparoscopic cholecystectomy is usually the treatment of choice when a gallbladder removal is deemed necessary. Laparoscopy is preferred as it’s less invasive, has fewer risks and recovery time is typically shorter.
It can happen, however, that the surgeon begins with a laparoscopic approach but deems necessary to make a larger incision. In this case, the surgeon will perform an open cholecystectomy: a 15-centimetre incision will be made below your ribs on the right side. Muscles and tissues are pulled back to access and remove your gallbladder.
While after a laparoscopic gallbladder removal patients can generally leave our clinic the next day, patients who undergo an open cholecystectomy might need to spend a few more nights at our clinic. It may take four to six weeks to fully recover from an open gallbladder removal.
You can contact us anytime if you need help planning your surgery or if you want to talk to one of our specialists. Our patient coordinators will be in touch with you in no time. Whether your doctor already recommended gallbladder removal or you are still unsure how to proceed further, we are here to assist you.
When you talk to us, make sure you give us an extensive overview of your medical history and inform us about any medications you are taking regularly. It is also very important to make us aware of any conditions you might have.
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