Every year, about 300,000 Americans have their gallbladders removed, a surgical procedure called a cholecystectomy. Although some surgeries are performed in people with cancer, most people who have their gallbladders removed do so because they have painful gallstones.
At Desert West Surgery, our doctors offer two types of gallbladder removal surgery for patients at our Las Vegas, Nevada, practice: laparoscopic cholecystectomy and open or “traditional” cholecystectomy. The type they recommend depends on your anatomy, health history, and other factors. Here’s how the two procedures compare.
As part of your digestive system, your gallbladder serves as a reservoir for bile, a digestive juice produced by your liver and primarily used in the digestion of fats. During digestion, the gallbladder releases bile through an opening called a duct.
Sometimes, bile contained in the gallbladder forms hard concretions called gallstones. Often, these stones cause no symptoms. But other times, they can block the duct opening, preventing bile from entering your digestive tract, and causing pain and inflammation.
Gallstones won’t go away on their own, and while changes in diet may temporarily reduce painful symptoms, those changes can’t make the stones go away. Instead, the gallbladder itself needs to be removed.
Getting rid of an organ sounds concerning, but fortunately, most people function just fine without their gallbladder. Instead of releasing bile into the gallbladder, the liver will release it directly into your digestive tract, where it performs the same functions.
Both surgeries use similar techniques to remove the gallbladder organ. It’s how they access the organ makes these two approaches so very different.
Open surgery uses a single, large incision to access your gallbladder. The large incision enables your surgeon to view the gallbladder and the tissues surrounding it.
Open surgery is typically reserved for people with severe gallbladder disease or people with scars or adhesions from previous abdominal surgeries. Or, your surgeon may begin with the laparoscopic approach, then switch to an open approach if your gallbladder is too difficult to remove via laparoscopy.
Typically, the surgeon makes a diagonal incision below your ribcage on your right side. Less commonly, an up-and-down incision is made on your right side. Your surgeon removes the gallbladder, inspects the area surrounding it, then closes the incision with sutures. Most open surgeries take about two hours.
Open cholecystectomy is significant surgery, and you may need to spend a day or more in the hospital while you recover. If the gallbladder was infected, you might need a drain to get rid of fluids. Complete recovery takes about 4-6 weeks or so.
Laparoscopic surgery is a minimally invasive type of surgery that uses 2-4 tiny incisions, and a special instrument called a laparoscope. The scope is long, thin, and flexible with a tiny camera and light attached to one end.
The scope is inserted through one of the tiny incisions and advanced to the gallbladder. An inert gas is pumped into your abdomen through another incision. This gas gently expands the area, so it’s easier to capture images of your gallbladder. The camera sends those images back to a monitor, which your surgeon uses to view the area during the procedure.
To remove the gallbladder, your surgeon uses special instruments designed for minimally invasive surgery. The gallbladder is removed through one of the incisions. Finally, the incisions are closed, often with surgical glue instead of traditional sutures.
Usually performed on an outpatient basis, laparoscopic gallbladder removal usually takes 1-2 hours. In addition to much smaller incisions, the minimally invasive approach involves less tissue damage, less bleeding, and less discomfort. It’s also associated with faster healing and recovery compared with open surgery.
Gallstones interfere with how your gallbladder works, and without treatment, your symptoms can become much worse, eventually leading to an emergency situation. Gallbladder surgery is the gold standard for treating symptomatic gallstones and relieving the pain and discomfort they cause.
To learn more about both types of gallbladder surgery and which one we recommend to help you feel better, book an appointment online or over the phone at Desert West Surgery today.