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.
Why is the gallbladder removed?
Your gallbladder is a small pear-shaped sac found under your liver on the right side of your abdomen. It stores and concentrates bile produced by your liver, and then releases it into your bowel to help it break down the fats in your food.
Gallstones form when the bile crystallises. They affect about 10% to 15% of adults. They vary in size from a minute grain of sand to a large golf ball. Most of the time gallstones cause no problems but sometimes they can irritate your gallbladder causing either pain or infection.
Pain from gallstones can occur at any time and especially after rich, fatty foods as this makes the gallbladder contract. The pain starts in your upper abdomen and may spread to your central chest, right side of the upper back or between your shoulders. You may also have nausea and vomiting, and in some cases, jaundice (a build-up of bile in your blood stream that causes a yellow tinge to your skin and eyes). If your pain is severe, you may need emergency surgery.
An infection in your gallbladder (cholecystitis) can be treated with antibiotics, but repeated bouts of pain or infection may mean it’s time for surgery.
What causes gallstones to form?
Normally your gallbladder stores bile and contracts on a regular basis, particularly when you take in food. If your gallbladder fails to contract, the bile stagnates, (initially becoming glue-like) and then crystallising. The crystals then grow and become stones. Because the underlying problem is the gallbladder itself, it makes sense to remove it if the stones start to cause you problems. Simply removing the stones from the gallbladder will not resolve your symptoms.
There are some rare inherited conditions that can predispose you to gallstones, but it’s often unclear why it happens.
How is the gallbladder removed?
Gallbladder removal (cholecystectomy) is one of the most common operations performed. Your gallbladder isn’t a vital organ, so your body can function without it. Instead, the liver, which produces the bile, just increases the bile output when needed. The two techniques used to remove the gallbladder are keyhole (laparoscopic) surgery and open surgery. Gallbladder removal may be done as an elective (planned) procedure, or if the symptoms are severe, as emergency surgery.
Alternatives to gallbladder removal
Options that may delay your need
Types of gallbladder removal surgery
You may be offered keyhole or open
Results vs risks of the surgery
The benefits and potential
complications of surgery.
Choosing a specialist
How to find a surgeon who
specialises in gallbladder removal.
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