Gallbladder surgery is one of the most common surgical procedures in the United States. Every year, at least 300,000 gallbladder removal surgeries (cholecystectomies) are performed in people who have symptomatic gallstones and other gallbladder problems.
Skilled in both minimally-invasive and open surgical techniques, the team at Desert West Surgery helps patients with gallbladder problems understand their options, including deciding when it’s time for surgery and when symptoms can be treated using other methods.
If you’re having gallbladder issues, here's how to tell when surgery is the better option.
Why surgery is performed
Gallbladder surgery typically is performed for one of two reasons: gallbladder cancer or symptomatic gallstones. While gallbladder removal is typically always the recommended course of action for cancer, it’s not always the first-line treatment for gallstones.
Your gallbladder serves as a storage reservoir for bile, an enzyme produced by your liver to break down fats in the foods you eat. Gallstones are hard concretions that form inside your gallbladder, typically if your gallbladder isn’t working the way it should or if the chemical composition of your bile is abnormal.
Gallstones can be as tiny as a grain of rice or as big as a ping-pong ball, and you can have one or many stones. When a stone blocks the bile duct and prevents your gallbladder from working normally, you can wind up with a lot of belly pain, along with other symptoms like:
- Pain in your right shoulder
- Pain in the center or your back
- Nausea or vomiting
Symptoms can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours — sometimes longer. Without treatment, gallbladder blockage can result in life-threatening infections and liver damage.
How to tell when it’s time for surgery
Gallstones are common (about 20 million Americans have them), but they won’t go away independently. While there are some medicines designed to dissolve gallstones, in most cases, the stones will reform. Surgical removal of the gallbladder is the only way to prevent gallstone symptoms from recurring.
In the initial stages of gallbladder disease, your symptoms may be very mild or fleeting, especially if the stones are tiny. In this stage, you may be able to relieve or lessen symptoms by avoiding specific foods, including fatty foods and foods high in cholesterol.
If symptoms become chronic or if you have severe pain or pain with a fever, surgery is necessary to prevent far more serious problems from developing. Surgery may also be recommended in the earlier stages of the disease to prevent problems in the future.
Two types of surgery
Our team offers both minimally invasive laparoscopic gallbladder surgery and open surgery, depending on your needs and condition.
Laparoscopic surgery uses several small incisions (typically three). The surgeon uses one incision to insert an extended scope equipped with a very tiny lighted camera. The camera sends real-time video images to a monitor, which your surgeon uses to “see” inside your belly and perform the surgery.
Special surgical instruments are inserted through the other incisions, enabling your surgeon to remove your gallbladder without using a larger incision in your belly. Laparoscopic surgery is typically performed on an outpatient basis, with recovery usually taking about a week.
Open surgery uses one larger incision (usually about 4-6 inches) in your belly. The surgeon uses this incision to remove your gallbladder and treat other issues, like inflammation or infection.
Because the incision is larger, you’ll usually have a hospital stay of a couple of days or so. Recovery also takes a little longer — typically up to a month. That’s because your belly muscles and other tissues also need time to heal.
Learn more about gallstone treatment options
Because gallbladder problems are common, it’s tempting to try to ignore your symptoms, especially if they’re mild. But doing so can put you in danger of serious, life-threatening medical problems.
If you have symptomatic gallstones, don’t delay your care. Call the office in Las Vegas, Nevada, or book an appointment online and learn how we can help you feel better and stay healthy.