The gallbladder is a small organ located under the liver on the upper right-hand side of the abdomen.It stores bile, a fluid made by the liver, that is released into the small intestine and aids in fat digestion.Sometimes, substances in the bile crystallize and form gallstones that can block the bile duct. If this happens, you may need to have surgery to remove the gallbladder. An infection of the gallbladder or gallbladder cancer may also require surgery; however, gallstones are the most common reason people need a cholecystectomy.
Causes and symptoms of gallstones
The actual cause of gallstones is unknown but several risk factors have been identified, including:
- Use of birth control pills
- Use of cholesterol lowering medication
- Losing weight too quickly
Common symptoms associated with gallstones are pain on the upper right-hand side of the stomach and/or back, nausea, vomiting, bloating, heartburn, or gas.
Determining if surgery is needed
Your doctor may conduct tests to determine if surgery is necessary. Those tests may include:
- Abdominal or endoscopic ultrasound – an abdominal ultrasound is non-invasive and uses a probe on the outside of the abdomen to look for gallstones and check the gallbladder wall. In an endoscopic ultrasound, a probe is inserted through the mouth into the intestines to determine if gallstones are blocking the bile ducts.
- HIDA scan – dye is injected into the veins and is secreted into the bile so your doctor can visualize any bile blockages due to gallstones or inflammation.
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography– a flexible tube is inserted into the small intestines through the mouth where dye is injected into the bile system ducts so the flow can be observed.
- Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography – this MRI can help guide tests and treatment options by showing high-resolution images of the bile ducts, pancreas, and gallbladder
How the surgery is performed
If surgery is needed, your doctor may perform a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, a procedure done under general anesthesia. This method uses several small incisions, instead of the traditional 6-inch one,that the surgical tools and camera are inserted through. The smaller incisions are less-invasive and require less recovery time.
A laparoscopic cholecystectomy isn’t appropriate for everyone but your doctor will discuss the options with you before surgery, and external factors, like scar tissue, may alter your doctor’s approach.
Recovery after the surgery
Most people are able to go home the same day after surgery; however, an overnight stay in the hospital may be needed. Generally, you can go home when you’re alert and able to eat and drink, but it may take up to a week to fully recover.
The treatment addressing an abnormal outcome will differ according to any number of variables, all of which your doctor will discuss with you.