About a million Americans are diagnosed with gallstones every year, and of those, about 1 out of every 4 will need treatment — for most people, that means gallbladder surgery ( or cholecystectomy). Every year in the United States, roughly 300,000 people have their gallbladders surgically removed.
A leading surgical practice with three locations in Las Vegas, Nevada, Desert West Surgery offers both traditional “open” gallbladder surgery and minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery. And while recovery might be a little different depending on the type of surgery you have, in both cases, the process is typically straightforward — and probably a lot faster than you anticipated.
Gallbladder removal: The basics
Your gallbladder serves as a storage area for bile, a digestive juice produced by your liver. Sometimes, hard concretions or “stones” form inside the gallbladder, blocking the duct that releases bile and causing painful symptoms.
While some medicines can dissolve gallstones, in nearly all cases, more stones will form. The preferred way to treat gallbladder problems is with gallbladder surgery using either a minimally invasive method called laparoscopy or traditional “open” surgery.
Laparoscopic gallbladder removal is typically performed on an outpatient basis. The surgery uses several very small incisions — typically three — in your abdomen. Your doctor inserts a long, thin, flexible instrument called a laparoscope through one of these incisions.
A tiny camera mounted to the end of the scope sends video images to a monitor, and your surgeon watches the monitor to guide the rest of the surgery. Your surgeon uses the remaining incisions to insert special instruments to detach the gallbladder and remove it from your body.
Open gallbladder surgery uses one long incision — about 4-6 inches — to access and remove the gallbladder. This approach was once the standard, but it’s used less often now, typically when the gallbladder is infected or inflamed, or you have scar tissue in the area.
The larger incision means greater tissue damage, which influences your recovery timeline. You’ll also need to plan on at least an overnight stay in the hospital following your surgery.
Recovery: Laparoscopic vs. open surgeries
Recovery after gallbladder removal can vary from one person to another, mainly depending on how healthy you were before undergoing your procedure. But there are some significant differences in the recovery experience depending on whether you have laparoscopic surgery or open surgery.
Not surprisingly, recovery following laparoscopic gallbladder surgery is faster and, typically, a more comfortable experience than open surgery, thanks to the smaller incisions used in laparoscopic surgery. With laparoscopic surgery, initial recovery takes about a week or two, and most patients can expect a complete recovery within about 4-6 weeks.
With open surgery, the larger incision also means more tissue damage and bleeding, so healing and recovery will take more time. In most cases, recovery takes about two months, but it may be longer before you can return to some strenuous activities.
If you’re discharged with a drain (a long, thin tube that drains excess fluids from the surgical site), you’ll come back in a week or so to have it removed. You’ll also be given instructions on how to care for the drains and any stitches or staples.
General recovery tips
Regardless of the type of surgery, afterward you can expect:
- Belly bloating from the gas used during the surgery
- Discomfort around the incision(s)
- Nausea from the anesthesia
- Sore throat from the breathing tube
- Loose stools for 4-8 weeks afterward
You’ll receive instructions on caring for your wound, but generally, you’ll need to avoid getting it wet while it heals. You’ll also be given directions regarding your activity level.
Some activity is vital for helping the area heal, but you’ll need to restrict strenuous activities to avoid straining the area. You won’t be able to drive at first, so plan to have someone available to drive you home from your surgery and run any necessary errands.
Try to drink 8-10 glasses of water a day during initial healing to assist in bowel movements. Eat plenty of fiber, and avoid spicy foods and greasy foods at first. You’ll have a follow-up appointment in the first couple of weeks after your surgery — don’t skip it.
Learn more about gallbladder surgery
Gallbladder surgery is a common type that can relieve painful symptoms and help your digestive system work better. To find out more about the procedure, call Desert West Surgery and book an appointment with our team today.