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Gallbladder removal surgery is a procedure to remove the gallbladder. It is also known as a cholecystectomy. We explain what the procedure involves and the reasons why you might need to have one.
However, whilst it is known how gallstones are formed, the exact cause or causes of them is not. In recent years, it has been discovered that very rapid weight loss can produce gallstones in the gallbladder and increase symptoms but there is no simple known cause for development of the vast majority of gallstones.
An instrument called a laparoscope, which has a small camera, will be put through the incision, providing full visibility of the tummy for the surgeon to see on a monitor. The surgery to remove the gallbladder is then conducted. Once the procedure is complete, the gas is released, and the incisions are stitched up and covered with dressings. Patients will usually have the operation done within a day in a non-emergency setting.
In a few cases, it is not possible to conduct or finish the operation with keyhole surgery, and a procedure called open surgery would be the next course of action. It involves a much larger incision of around 10-20cm in the tummy. This operation requires admission to the hospital for around three to five days.
This is encouraged as the patient may still be feeling the effects of the anaesthetic up to 24 hours after the operation. Patients should not drive afterwards and should ask someone to escort them home. Someone should be close by to the patient the first night they are home following surgery.
For patients who undergo open surgery, they will normally have to stay in hospital for three to five days and their recovery time will be much longer. It can take up to six to eight weeks to return to work and other normal activities.
Secondly, the biliary system is like the body's domestic plumbing, so post-operatively a small leak can occur from where the operation took place and that can create inflammation in the tummy, requiring admission to hospital and further treatment. This happens in about one in a hundred cases. People's bowel motions can become looser and patients may experience some residual pain postoperatively. Other, less common, side effects include digestive issues, heart problems, pancreatitis, and pneumonia.
However, if patients are unable or unwilling to undergo surgery but require treatment, there may be a number of possible non-invasive techniques that could be considered. There is the option of undergoing an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). This test is for diagnosing gallstones, but the doctor may be able remove some of the gallstones if they are found at the same time as conducting this procedure. However, patients may still require surgery to remove the gallbladder as an ERCP will usually not be able to remove all of the gallstones.
It may also be possible to dissolve gallstones by taking ursodeoxycholic acid tablets, especially if the stones are small and do not contain any calcium. However, such treatment is rarely effective, needs to be taken for a prolonged period of time of up to two years, and the stones can come back once the patient ends treatment.