Using this guide What's covered
Here you’ll find the answers to many of your questions about gallbladder removal (cholecystectomy). Learn how the surgery works, what it may cost, what your recovery may be like, and more.
To see how the surgery is done, view our procedure animation below. For personal insights, see our patient experience videos in which HCF members talk frankly about their preparation, surgery and recovery.
What is gallbladder removal?
Gallbladder removal (cholecystectomy) is one of the most common operations performed. The two techniques used to remove the gallbladder are laparoscopic cholecystectomy (“keyhole surgery”) or open cholecystectomy (laparotomy).
Causes of gallstone formation
Gallstones can be hereditary and higher than normal levels of oestrogen, insulin or cholesterol may also increase the risk of gallstone formation. When pregnant or taking contraceptives, activity in the gallbladder slows down, contributing to the risk of gallstones developing. This is also the case with diabetes, pancreatitis and coeliac disease (wheat intolerance).
Other reasons include:
- A high-fat, low-fibre diet
- Heavy drinking
- Rapid weight loss
- Coronary artery disease or other recent illness
- Intestinal disorders
- Multiple pregnancies
Why is it done?
The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped sac found under the liver on the right hand side of the abdomen. It stores bile produced by the liver, which is then released into the bowel to aid digestion by breaking down fats.
The most common disorder of the gallbladder is the formation of gallstones, which affect about 15% of people aged 50 and over. Gallstones form when excess cholesterol in the bile crystallises, causing the gallbladder not to empty properly. They can vary in size from a minute grain of sand to a large golf ball. The gallbladder can then become inflamed and/or infected; this is known as cholecystitis.
If gallstones are present you may experience pain, often at night and especially after eating a meal of rich, high fat foods. The pain starts in the abdomen and may spread to the chest, back or between the shoulders. You also experience nausea and vomiting, and in some cases jaundice (a build-up of bile in the blood stream causing a yellow tinge to the skin and eyes).
Although an infection can be treated with antibiotics, repeated bouts of cholecystitis often require surgical intervention. In the past, gallstones were sometimes treated with lithotripsy, a procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves to break down the stones, but results can be poor and this is now rarely performed.
Where is it done?
A cholecystectomy is done in an overnight hospital. Your expected length of stay after laparoscopic surgery is 2-3 days, and 4-6 days after open surgery.
How long does it take?
Usually around 1-2 hours.
Who is involved?
- Your surgeon
- There may be an assistant surgeon
- Pathologist (if blood tests are necessary)
- You may see a physiotherapist after the operation
Preparing for surgery
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