Gallbladder Removal – Facts You Should Know

Why Remove the Gallbladder?

You may be wondering why the doctor wants to remove your gallbladder in the first place. The most common reason is because of gallstones in the gallbladder. Gallstones have several causes, but are frequently related to diet, obesity, hereditary factors, hormone birth-control, or other causes.

Many people have gallstones that go unnoticed because they do not have symptoms. However, when gallstones block a duct in the flow of bile, the result can be a lot of pain and inflammation. In order to relieve the pain and remove the stones, doctors often recommend surgical removal of the gallbladder. This procedure is called a cholecystectomy.

Type of Surgery

The liver and gall bladder

File courtesy of Wikipedia

There are two main types of surgical procedures for removing the gallbladder. The more traditional method requires a large incision in the abdomen. This results in a longer recovery and greater possibility of complications. The second type, laparoscopic, requires a couple of very small incisions and is much easier to recover from.

How Should I Prepare?

If you have a sudden, very severe attack of gallbladder pain, you may not have much time to prepare for a surgery. In such cases, surgery is often performed as soon as possible.

If your gallbladder surgery is scheduled in advance you will want to prepare as for any other major surgery. Your doctor will recommend a schedule for the last meal before surgery. Because laparoscopic surgery is often out-patient, you will want to arrange for someone to help you get home after surgery.

Complications

Generally, gallbladder surgery is considered a safe procedure with few complications. Pain and fatigue are the most common side effects. However, nausea and vomiting can be fairly common immediately after laparoscopic surgery. This can be treated with anti-nausea medications.

Although many doctors suggest that long-term complications of gallbladder surgery is rare, quite a few patients feel long-term effects from the surgery. These include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Nausea

Collectively, these symptoms are called postcholecystectomy-syndrome, and occur in 5% to 40% of patients who have undergone gallbladder surgery.

Postcholecystectomy Syndrome

In order to understand why some people experience these symptoms, it helps to understand the function of the gallbladder. The gallbladder is used to concentrate and store bile, then release it into the upper intestine to aid in fat digestion when a meal is eaten. When the gallbladder is removed, bile drains slowly and constantly into the intestine. This constant exposure of bile can produce diarrhea. Also, because there is not a large dump of bile after a meal, improper fat digestion can produce bloating, gas, and other symptoms.

Help for the Syndrome

Medical doctors do not always offer a great deal of help for dealing with the symptoms of postcholecystectomy syndrome. However, there are some practical steps that can help alleviate these symptoms:

  • Low-fat Diet – if your gallbladder has been removed, you may find it helpful to maintain a low-fat diet. Because the body can no longer dump larger amounts of bile into the intestine after a meal, it does not digest fats as efficiently. Reducing the amount of fat you eat may alleviate some of the symptoms.
  • Fiber – including more fiber in your diet can help alleviate diarrhea, and it may also help eliminate fats.
  • Bile Salts – another way to help with the effects of gallbladder removal is taking bile salt supplements. Taken with a meal, these salts help to break down the fats, thus alleviating the discomfort of undigested fats.

Alternatives to Surgery

Not everyone has to have their gallbladder removed. Often dietary change, herbal supplements, and flushing are great gallstone treatment alternatives to surgery. Before undergoing surgery, you may want to consider these other options.


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