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Removal of the Gallbladder

What is the Gallbladder?

The gallbladder is a small muscular bag, which lies behind your right ribs to the front, and is attached just underneath the liver. It stores liquid called bile, which helps the body to digest fats in your food. The gallbladder is connected to the main bile duct that carries bile from the liver to the duodenum (gut).

Why do I need a cholecystectomy?

Your consultant feels that you need this operation because the stones that have formed in your gall bladder are causing you pain. If the stones move into your bile duct they could block the drainage of the duct and cause pain, fever and yellow jaundice. If a stone is found on ultrasound scan without causing you any symptoms, usually we do not recommend removing the gall bladder, unless there is a good reason.

How is the gallbladder removed?

Gallbladders are removed in an operation called a cholecystectomy. The operation can be done as ‘keyhole surgery’ in which case, it is called a laparoscopic cholecystectomy. It is the laparoscopic method that we plan to use for your operation.

Can I live without my gallbladder?

Yes you can. Although the gall bladder is a store for bile, you will still continue to produce bile but it will go directly down the main bile duct into the duodenum. Almost all diseases of the gall bladder occur because the gall bladder in non-functioning or not functioning properly. This can be a source of infection if the gall bladder is not removed.

What are the benefits of having my gallbladder removed?

Having your gall bladder removed usually means that you will not have any further attacks of pain, or other symptoms that the doctor thinks may have been caused by gallstones. Also, the chance of further gallstones forming is greatly reduced. Sometimes this pain can continue after removing the gall bladder. You do not need to avoid food and drink that triggered your symptoms after your gallbladder or gallstones has been removed.

Are there any risks involved in having an operation on my gall bladder?

Complications are unusual during this operation. If any do occur, we can spot them quickly and deal with them. Serious complications are very uncommon. The kinds of complications that can happen are:
- Chest infection, particularly in patients who are smokers. Giving up smoking would reduce the risk even if you only stop 2 days before your operation. Your blood oxygen levels will improve which will benefit you during your anaesthetic. Research recommends that, to get the full benefit of giving up you need to stop smoking at least 8 weeks before your operation. Your assessment nurse can provide you with information about stopping smoking.
- Leakage of bile from the liver surface around the stump of the duct, this usually stops after a few days.
- Bleeding. During the operation we divide the arteries that supply the blood to the gall bladder close to the liver. There is a risk of bleeding, which in most cases is easily stopped by using a clotting machine (diathermy), which helps bleeding tissues to clot (coagulate).
- Infection of the wound. This is rare. If it does occur it will usually clear up within a week or two, but you may need to take antibiotics and have a District Nurse visit you at home to dress your wound.
- Aches and twinges around the wound areas, which can last for up to 6 months after the operation.
- Numbness in the skin around the wound. This may take 2 to 3 months to get better.
- Damage to the main bile duct. The main bile duct, which carries bile from the liver to the duodenum, may be damaged during the operation. The incidence is low (1 in 500 cases) but if it occurs you may need a second operation to repair the bile duct.
- Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), which is a clot of blood in the leg veins, is a very low risk. To help reduce the risk factor even more we will give you a small injection of an anti-clotting (anti-coagulant) drug into your tummy fat on the day of your operation. At that time we will also give you some special support stockings to wear to the theatre. You must keep these on after your operation and continue to wear them until you are back to your normal walking activities again. This is usually about 4 to 5 days after your surgery. Moving your legs and fidgeting your feet are simple exercises that you can do to help your circulation whilst you are resting or sitting and this will help to avoid developing DVTs.

Contraception and DVT

Female patients who are taking the combined oestrogen oral contraceptive pill (OCP) or having it as an injection are at a slightly higher risk of developing a DVT. Your surgeon will discuss with you the option to stop using this for 1 month before your operation. If you choose to stop taking your contraception it is very important that you consider other forms of contraception so that you can avoid an unplanned pregnancy. Your GP should be able to advise you about alternative methods of contraception.

If you use a progesterone-only type of contraception you can carry on taking it. Female patients who are on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) do not need to stop taking it. If you are worried by any of the above information, please speak to your consultant.


As with any procedure, we must obtain your consent beforehand. Staff will explain all the risks, benefits and alternatives before they ask for your consent. One of the main risks is bile duct injury. If you are unsure about any aspect of the procedure or treatment proposed, please do not hesitate to ask for more information.
How is the gallbladder removed?
Gall bladders are removed in an operation called a cholecystectomy. The operation can be done as ‘keyhole surgery’ in which case, it is called a laparoscopic cholecystectomy. It is the laparoscopic method that we plan to use for your operation.

When is the pre-operative assessment appointment?

You will be invited to come to the pre-operative assessment clinic about 2 to 3 weeks before the date of your surgery. At this time the pre-assessment nurse will help you to identify any problems you may have, which might affect the progress of your recovery after the operation. If there are any possible problems, there will be an opportunity to discuss these with your anaesthetist and surgeon. Your pre-operative assessment nurse will also give you important instructions on how to prepare for your operation. If you are cared for by a family member or friend and need them to stay with you whilst you are at the hospital please discuss this with the nurse when you come for your pre-operative assessment.

Are there any other treatments available?

There are other treatments, which you should have already discussed with your consultant. Most of these have been found to have a low success rate and fail to get rid of the stones, or new stones form. The only way to remove the stones permanently is to have the operation.

What happens on the day of my operation?

On the day of your operation, go to the reception desk or ward and let the staff know you have arrived. You will meet the nurse who will check your details are correct and take you to the waiting area before theatre. You may be seen by the surgeon and anaesthetist at this time and should ask them any questions you may have. Before you have your anaesthetic you may be given some pain killers and anti-sickness tablets to help you feel comfortable after your operation. You will be allowed a small drink of water to help you swallow them. You will have your anti-coagulant injection if you were not asked to attend the evening before your operation. You will be asked to put on your theatre clothing and support stockings. We will ensure your clothes and any other property is stored safely.

Will I need to sign a consent form before the operation?

Yes, we will ask you to sign a consent form. Please make sure that you understand what is going to happen, how you will feel afterwards and the risks of the operation before you sign. You will have the opportunity to discuss details of the operation and about your recovery with the surgeon, if you are unsure about anything please ask them to explain. Only sign the consent form if you are sure you understand what is going to be done.

What does the operation involve and how long will it take?

This operation is carried out under a general anaesthetic. First, your surgeon makes 4 or 5 small cuts (incisions) into your upper tummy (abdomen) and one at your belly button (umbilicus). Then he or she inserts a small scope (laparoscope) with a light on it to see inside your abdomen. Next, some air (carbon dioxide gas) is blown into your abdomen to make more space for the surgeon to see clearly. Once the surgeon has a clear view the gall bladder is disconnected from the liver and bile duct system and removed. Lastly, as much air as possible is removed from your abdomen before the cuts are closed using either stitches or staples. The average time for this operation is 45 minutes but it can sometimes take up to two and a half hours.

Will I need to have a blood transfusion?

This will rarely be necessary but for safety we will check your blood group by taking a small sample of your blood a few weeks before your operation and also on the day of your operation. If you have any concerns regarding this please tell the doctor or nurse.

How long will I be in hospital?

The length of time you are in hospital will depend on how well you recover from surgery, this maybe within 4 to 6 hours of your operation or in some cases, people may need to stay overnight, in which case we will find a bed in the main hospital.

Who can accompany me to the hospital?

A friend or relative is welcome to accompany you and wait in our reception area. However, please be aware of the expected length of stay. Please inform your friend or relative and they can be telephoned at a specific time later in the day when you are ready for home if they do not wish to wait.

How will my family and friends know how I am?

To make sure that your friends and family know how you are getting on, we will ask you for details of one person who you would like to be told of your progress. To avoid our having to deal with many phone calls rather than caring for patients, please ask this person to let other family members and friends know how you are doing. If you need to stay overnight in one of the wards in the main hospital, we will make sure that this person is given the telephone number so they can ring that ward directly.

In 5% of cases we may find it too difficult to remove the gall bladder using keyhole surgery and have to make a larger cut in your tummy to remove the gall bladder (traditional surgery). Before you have the operation we will explain that we might need to switch to traditional surgery during your operation. Also, when we ask you to sign a consent form, we will ask you to give your consent to both methods of surgery. If you have the traditional operation you will usually need to stay in hospital for an extra day.

After You Procedure

Once your surgery is finished, we will take you to the Post-Anaesthetic Care Unit (Recovery). When you wake up you will have an oxygen mask over your nose and mouth. A small plastic tube (intravenous cannula) will have been inserted in the back of your hand, which we will use to give you your anaesthetic and any other medicines or fluids you need during your recovery. Very occasionally you may find that we have placed a drainage tube into one of your incisions to drain away blood or bile. If you do have a drain in, it will stay in place until the drainage stops, which is usually within a few hours or days after the operation. You will not be sent home with a drain in. Whilst you are in recovery, we will check both your blood pressure and pulse regularly. When you are more awake, comfortable and as long as you have no serious difficulties, we will move you to a reclining chair or bedroom in the ward area.

Will I have any pain?

Some pain is inevitable and you may feel it in your:
Wounds Abdomen Back Shoulder tips
This usually lasts for a few days. About 50% of people also have a slight sore throat after a general anaesthetic. The anaesthetist will have given you some painkillers before you wake so you should be comfortable However, some patients are still sore when they wake up. If this is the case, the nursing staff will be able give you stronger painkillers straight away. If you have pain or discomfort at any time whilst you are in hospital, please tell the nurse looking after you, so that we can give you the pain relief you need.

Will I feel sick after my operation?

After the operation some people can feel sick. However, your anaesthetist will give you some anti-sickness medicine to stop you feeling sick or vomiting. If you still feel sick, the nursing staff have other medication they can give you to try and relieve the sickness. As long as you are able to eat and drink without vomiting, feeling sick should not delay your going home, although you may need to take some anti-sickness tablets home with you.

How soon will I be able to eat and drink afterwards?

You should be able to start drinking normally and eating a light meal within a few hours of your operation, provided that you are not feeling sick. Before your operation we will have told you to have a low fat diet, but you may now return to the foods you were avoiding, but be aware you may put on weight. The painkillers we give you can sometimes cause constipation, so, in the first few days following the operation, you may need to eat a high fibre diet to help with this.

Will I be able to go to the toilet as normal?

You should not have any difficulty passing urine and should have done this within 24 hours of your operation. If you have any difficulty you should tell someone on the medical or nursing team. If you have not had your bowels open after 2 days and you are uncomfortable you can take a mild laxative for example, Lactulose syrup, or senna products, which can be bought over-the-counter from your chemist.

When will I be able to go home?

To be able to leave hospital you must be comfortable, be eating and drinking without being sick, be up and walking and have your normal blood pressure and pulse. You must also have a responsible adult to collect you by car or taxi and care for you at home for the first 48 hours after your operation. Before you leave, we will explain to you and your carer about what to look out for if something is going wrong, who you can contact, some simple First Aid, and show you how to change your dressings and how often. We will provide you with dressings to take home and also give you a supply of painkillers, to take as prescribed on the packaging. If either you and/or your relative or friend has any questions about your treatments or the care you will need at home, please ask us before you leave the hospital.

What happens when I get home?

For the first 2 or 3 days after surgery you will possibly need someone to care for you and you will feel more tired than usual. It is important to get plenty of rest and sleep but also to keep active. Gentle walking around the house and garden is good, but remember to gradually increase your activities a little each day. You will need to continue wearing the support stockings, which you put on before your operation. Wear these day and night until you are back to your normal level of walking. This will usually be about 5 days after your operation. Most patients will have wounds with stitches that dissolve. However, if you can still see your stitches after 3 weeks you should ask your GP or Practice Nurse to remove them.

How soon can I return to my normal activities?

You should be returning to your normal activities after 1 week, but avoid heavy lifting or strenuous exercise for between 2 and 4 weeks. You can resume sexual activity as soon as your wounds are comfortable. If you drive, then you should only return to driving when you feel comfortable to do so safely. To check this, practice an emergency stop whilst the car is parked, if it hurts to do this you are not ready. Also, you should check with your insurance company before you drive again, as you may find that you are not covered for a certain time after this operation.

If you have had staples or stitches that need to be removed, these can come out 7 to 10 days after your operation. You will need to contact your GP’s surgery to arrange an appointment to have them removed. When you leave hospital, your wounds will be covered with sterile dressings. If there is no discharge from the wounds then, after 5 days you can stop using dressings. But, if your clothing chafes on them, you may prefer to continue to use dressings for a while longer. Don’t worry if you have a small amount of blood staining on the dressings in the first 24 hours after you get home, as this is normal. You may also have some swelling and purple bruising around the wound that spreads downwards by gravity and fades to a yellow colour after a few days. The slight crusts that form on the wound will fall off after 7 to 10 days.Your wound will take several months to heal completely. As it heals you may notice that it gets firmer, thicker and may feel numb around the scars. This will get better in a few months.The redness of the scars will gradually fade. It is quite normal to feel some aches and twinges in the wound areas even up to 6 months after your operation.

Will I have an Outpatient Clinic appointment after my operation?

We do not always routinely give patients an outpatient clinic appointment after this operation. However, your surgeon will discuss this with you at the time. If you have any concerns that are non-urgent and would like to discuss these with your Surgeon, you can arrange this with the OHG office.
When will I be able to have a bath or shower?
You may do this the day after your operation. Bathing or showering gives you a good opportunity to check that your wounds are healing well. Dry the wound areas gently with a clean towel and apply a new dressing if needed. If, when you shower or bathe you notice that you have increased soreness, redness or weeping from the wound seek medical advice as these can be signs of infection. (Contact numbers are given at the back of this booklet). If you do have a bath or shower and you are still not walking as normal, remember to put your support stockings back on.
When can I return to work?
This will depend on the type of work you do. For instance, if you do:
Light office work, then expect to be off work for 1 - 2 weeks Heavy manual work, then expect to be off work for 2 - 4 weeks
If you need a fit note, make sure that you ask us for one when you come in for your operation.
The fit note will cover you for 2 weeks, after this you will need to make an appointment to see your GP.

What if I have any problems relating to my operation?

If you have any problems or concerns relating to your operation or you have any of the symptoms listed below, you should seek medical advice.
Dial 999 Or, go to your nearest Accident and Emergency Department You should consider something an emergency if:
You are in a severe state of collapse, or loss of consciousness (other than a simple faint)
You have severe bleeding
If you are unable to contact the urgent medical advice line, and you feel you need help immediately
Do not drive within 24 hours of having had a general anaesthetic. Please note we may also have given you medicines that can cause drowsiness. If we have, you must not drive or operate machinery whilst you are taking them. Check on the medication information leaflet if you are not sure whether your drugs do this, or ask your pharmacist.
Urgent attention
You should seek urgent medical advice for:

  • Tummy (abdominal) swelling
  • Severe vomiting
  • A fever or shivering
  • Fresh bleeding or bruising

Non-urgent problems (seek advice within 24 hours)

You should seek medical advice within 24 hours of onset if you experience any of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Increased soreness, redness or swelling at any of the wound sites Pus or drainage from any of the wound sites
  • Prolonged or severe pain, which is not controlled by your painkillers Fever, rigor, shaking, sweaty, fainting or jaundice.
  • Or any thing else that maybe worrying you about your recovery

Seek further advice from your GP

  • If eating or drinking triggers existing symptoms or causes new symptoms to develop after you have recovered from having your gallbladder or gallstones removed.

Weekends and bank holidays Contact either your GP or the urgent attention number given above.
Please share this information with your carers who will be supporting you after your operation.

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