Guide to Gallbladder Surgery

In the United States, an estimated 10 to 15 percent of adults have gallstone disease, as more than 80 percent of these gallstones are considered cholesterol stones. Gallstones are hardened deposits of digestive fluid that can form in your gallbladder.

The gallbladder is located beneath your liver and it is a small, pear-shaped organ. It holds a digestive fluid called bile, which is released into your small intestines.

A gallstones can range in size from as small as a grain of sand to as large as a golf ball. Some people only develop one gallstone, while others develop many gallstones at the same time.

Gallbladder surgery (cholecystectomy) is most commonly performed to treat gallstones and the complications these stones cause. A doctor will most likely recommend surgery if you have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Gallstones in the gallbladder
  • Gallstones in the bile duct
  • Gallbladder inflammation
  • Pancreas inflammation due to gallstones

A cholecystectomy can relieve the pain and discomfort of gallstones.  Conservative treatments, such as dietary modifications, usually cannot stop gallstones from recurring. A cholecystectomy is the only way to prevent gallstones.

Actually, there is a low risk of complications with this surgery. These may include:

  • Bile leak
  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Heart problems
  • Infections
  • Injury to nearby structures, such as the bile duct, liver and small intestine
  • Pancreatitis
  • Pneumonia

Your risk of complications depends on your overall health and the reason for your cholecystectomy.

Your surgeon may ask you to do the following if you are planning to have a gallbladder surgery:

  • Eat nothing the night before your surgery. You may drink a sip of water with your medications, but avoid eating and drinking at least four hours before your surgery.
  • Stop taking certain medications and supplements. Tell your doctor about all the medications and supplements you take. Continue taking most medications as prescribed. Your doctor may ask you to stop taking certain medications and supplements because they may increase your risk of bleeding.
  • You will want to plan ahead for your recovery, for instance plan for a hospital stay. Most people go home the same day of their cholecystectomy, but complications can occur that require one or more nights in the hospital. If the surgeon needs to make a long incision in your abdomen to remove your gallbladder, you may need to stay in the hospital longer. Plan ahead by bringing personal items, such as your toothbrush, comfortable clothing, and books and magazines to pass the time.
  • Find someone to drive you home and stay with you. Ask a friend or family member to drive you home and stay close the first night after surgery.

The following is recommended to help prevent gallstones from forming:

  • Eat more foods that are high in fiber, such as
    • fruits, vegetables, beans, and peas.
    • whole grains, including brown rice, oats, and whole wheat bread.
  • Eat fewer refined carbohydrates and less sugar.
  • Eat healthy fats, like fish oil and olive oil, to help your gallbladder contract and empty on a regular basis.
  • Avoid unhealthy fats, like those often found in desserts and fried foods.
You can lower your risk of gallstones by eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight. Talk with your health care professional before you make any changes to your eating plan.

Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing related symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.