What is gallbladder surgery?
The gallbladder is a small sac that holds bile. Bile is a digestive juice produced by the liver, which the body uses to breakdown dietary fats. If you are experiencing gallbladder symptoms your surgeon may recommend gallbladder surgery. Most gallbladder surgery involves completely removing the gallbladder, however, in some instances, other procedures may be considered more appropriate.
The most common forms of gallbladder surgery include:
- Cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal)
- Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) – typically used to unblock bile ducts
- Cholecystostomy (gallbladder drainage) – typically a temporary measure to assist people for whom a gallbladder removal procedure would be high risk.
Why do I need gallbladder surgery?
Gallbladder surgery is usually performed to treat gallstones. Gallstones can be painful and the surgery aims to stop your pain and relieve your symptoms. Your doctor may recommend gallbladder surgery if you have:
- Gallstones in the gallbladder (cholelithiasis)
- Gallstones in the bile duct (choledocholithiasis)
- Gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis)
- Pancreas inflammation (pancreatitis) due to gallstones
What happens during gallbladder surgery?
Gallbladder surgery is performed using general anaesthesia which means that you’ll be asleep for the whole procedure. Your surgeon will usually perform the procedure using a laparoscopic approach. Rarely will an open surgery approach be needed.
During a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, your surgeon will make four small incisions into your abdomen. A tube with a tiny light and video camera is inserted into one of the incisions. Your surgeon then watches a video monitor in the operating room and uses small surgical tools inserted through another incision to remove your gallbladder. A laparoscopic cholecystectomy usually takes under one hour.
Traditional (open) cholecystectomy
During an open cholecystectomy your surgeon makes an incision in your abdomen. The muscle and tissue of your abdomen are pulled back and your surgeon removes the gallbladder. Your incision is then sutured (stitched) and you will be taken to a recovery area. The procedure usually takes one or two hours.
Risks and potential complications from gallbladder surgery
Gallbladder surgery is a safe procedure, however, the following complications can arise:
- Bile leak (< 0.5%)
- Bleeding (< 0.5%)
- Infection (< 0.5%)
- Bile duct injury (< 0.2%)
- Injury to nearby structures, such as the liver and intestine
- Medical problems if you have pre-existing illnesses
What is the cost of gallbladder surgery?
Gallbladder surgery is performed in both public and private hospitals. A portion of the cost for your surgery may be covered by your private health insurance and you should discuss this with your provider.
Please contact the Sydney GI Surgery team to discuss your needs and for an accurate assessment of the cost involved.
Recovery from gallbladder surgery
Recovery from gallbladder surgery varies depending on your procedure:
- Laparoscopic cholecystectomy – You may be able to go home on the same day as your procedure, however, your surgeon will recommend a one-night stay in hospital. In most cases you will be able to go home as soon as you are able to eat and drink and can walk without assistance. Recovery from this procedure usually takes about 1 week.
- Open cholecystectomy. Most people spend 2 or 3 days in hospital after this procedure. You will be able to go home as soon as you are able to eat and drink and can walk without assistance. Recovery from this procedure usually takes about 2 – 3 week.
Your expected recovery time will depend on which procedure your surgeon has used as well as your overall health. Talk to your doctor about when you will be able to return to work and normal activities.