Gallbladder Surgery

What is the gallbladder?

The gallbladder is a storage bag for bile that is made by the liver. When you eat food, the gallbladder squeezes bile out into the bile duct and bile is mixed with food in the duodenum where it helps the digestion of fatty food. Bile is what makes stool the color brown.

What are gallstones?

There are two types of gallstones. The more common one is made when the bile components such as cholesterol and bile pigments precipitate and form a solid lump. Another type is pigment stones which are more common in patients with hematologic disorders such as hemolytic anemia. It varies in size and in number.

What causes gallstones?

The exact cause is not well known. It is more common in certain populations than others. It also can run in families. It is not uncommon to find that a patient with a gallbladder disorder has family members with similar problems in the past. Rapid weight loss can also be associated with forming gallstones.

What symptoms can I have with gallbladder disease?

The symptoms depend on where the gallstones are. Most commonly, gallstones in the gallbladder can cause abdominal pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen, especially on the right side after you eat. Nausea, vomiting or bloating can be signs of gallbladder problems, too. If the symptoms go away after a while, then we term it ‘biliary colic’. If the pain persists or a fever occurs, this means the gallstone is blocking the outflow of the gallbladder, and inflammation of the gallbladder is present (acute cholecystitis).

If the gallstone escapes into the bile duct, it can block bile flow and cause jaundice (yellow skin), itchy skin and dark urine. If the bile gets infected, it cause cause  severe infection called cholangitis.

If the gallstone gets stuck at the junction where the bile duct and pancreatic duct join, it can lead to pancreatitis.

Rarely, if a large gallstone passes into the small bowel, it can cause a bowel obstruction.

In certain people, gallbladder problems are not related to gallstones but poor muscle contraction of the gallbladder (biliary dyskinesia). The symptoms include abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating or nausea.

How do you diagnose gallbladder problems?

The most useful test is abdominal ultrasound. It is non-invasive and it does not hurt to have the test, but you need to be fasting for a few hours for the most accurate test results. It can tell you whether you have gallstones, whether the gallbladder is inflamed, or whether the bile duct is dilated due to blockage by a gallstone. If the ultrasound is negative but symptoms are highly suggestive of  a gallbladder problem, then your doctor may order a HIDA scan, which checks for the squeezing function of the gallbladder.

How do you treat gallbladder problems?

Gallbladder surgery is one of the most common surgeries a general surgeon performs. It is usually done through four small Band-aid incisions (laparoscopic surgery) and the gallbladder is taken out of a bellybutton  incision.

What can I expect on the day of surgery?

The surgery usually takes 1-2 hours. In pre-scheduled cases, you can expect to go home on the day of surgery. It usually takes half a day for the preoperative preparation, the actual surgery and the postoperative recovery period.

If the surgery is an emergency, such as for an inflamed gallbladder or a gallstone stuck in the bile duct, you may be admitted after surgery for observation for a night or two. If the gallbladder is severely inflamed, a surgical drain may be placed at the time of surgery, but it is usually removed after a day or two.

Is the surgery painful?

There is a certain amount of discomfort after surgery, but it is not severe. It can be controlled with good pain medications and it rarely lasts for more than a day or two.

When can I go back to work?

Usually patients can walk and perform their usual daily activities on the same day or the next day. Usually people take about a week or so off work to recover from surgery.

Are there restrictions after surgery?

I recommend no heavy lifting (more than 10 pounds) for 4 weeks after surgery to reduce the risk of a hernia. If your work is physical and demanding, this may affect when you can return to work.

What complications can I have with gallbladder surgery?

Gallbladder surgery is a safe procedure. But with any surgery, there can be risks. This includes bleeding, wound infection, bile leak, bile duct injury, bowel injury, going back to surgery for problems, heart attack, blood clots in the legs or in the lungs, and less than 0.5% risk of death.

Call today to schedule an appointment with Dr. Sung Cho.


Schedule your appointment today for a gallbladder surgery consultation.


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