Laparoscopic gallbladder removal is a minimally invasive surgery that uses small incisions and specialized tools to remove a diseased or infected gallbladder.
The gallbladder is a small organ located near the liver. It stores bile, a liquid that is produced in the liver. The gallbladder releases bile to help break down fats. Normal digestion is possible without a gallbladder, so if it becomes diseased or infected, removal is one treatment option.
According to the Mayo Clinic, laparoscopic removal is the most common type of gallbladder removal surgery (Mayo, 2010).
It is formally known as laparoscopic cholecystectomy.
The presence of gallstones and the complications they present are the main reason a surgeon would opt to remove your gallbladder. Gallstones (also called cholelithiasis) form inside the gallbladder from substances in the bile that become hard. They range in size from grains of sand to golf balls.
Other conditions that could make you a candidate for laparoscopic gallbladder removal include:
- biliary dyskinesia: when the gallbladder does not fill or empty correctly due to a defect
- choledocholithiasis: gallstones that have moved to the bile duct (this may cause blockage and not allow the gallbladder to drain)
- cholecystitis: inflammation of the gallbladder
- pancreatitis: inflammation of the pancreas
Laparoscopic surgery is preferred over traditional open surgery because the smaller incisions that are made reduce the risk of infection, bleeding, and recovery time.
Laparoscopic gallbladder removal is considered a safe operation. The University of Southern California (USC) reports that the complication rate is less than two percent (USC, 2002).
Although rare, every surgical procedure carries some risks. Your doctor will perform a complete physical examination and review your medical history prior to the procedure to minimize these risks.
The risks of laparoscopic gallbladder removal include:
- allergic reaction to anesthesia or other drugs
- blood clots
- damage to blood vessels
- heart problems, such as rapid heart rate
- injury to the bile duct or small intestine
Prior to surgery, you’ll undergo several tests to ensure that you are healthy enough for the procedure. These will include blood tests, imaging tests of your gallbladder, a complete physical, and a review of your medical history.
Tell your doctor if you are taking any medications, including over-the-counter medicines or nutritional supplements. You may have to stop taking certain medications prior to surgery. Also tell your doctor if you are pregnant or believe you could be pregnant.
Your doctor will give you complete instructions on how best to prepare for surgery. This could include:
- arranging for a ride home and having someone to stay with you immediately after surgery
- drinking a prescription solution that flushes out your bowels
- fasting (including fluids) four hours or more before surgery
- planning for a hospital stay in case of complications
- showering using a special antibacterial soap
Before beginning the procedure, you’ll change into a hospital gown and will be given an IV so doctors can deliver medications and fluids directly into your bloodstream. You’ll be given general anesthesia, which will put you in a painless sleep before the surgery begins.
Your surgeon will make four small incisions in your abdomen. Through these incisions, he or she will guide a tube with a small lighted camera through your abdomen. Watching the video through a monitor, your doctor will guide other tools through the holes in your abdomen. Your abdomen will be inflated with gas so your surgeon has space to work. He or she will remove your gallbladder through these holes.
After the gallbladder has been removed, your surgeon will use a special X-ray to check for problems in your gallbladder. This technique is called cholangiography. Any abnormalities in the bile duct may be removed.
When your surgeon is satisfied with the results, the openings will be stitched up and bandaged properly. After the procedure, you’ll be brought to a room to recover from the anesthesia. Your vital signs will be monitored the entire time.
Most patients are able to go home the day of surgery.
Symptoms after the gallbladder removal surgery are mild and rare. However, you may experience some diarrhea.
Walking is encouraged as soon as you are feeling better. Your doctor will instruct you about when you’ll be ready for most normal activities. Full recovery typically takes a week.
You’ll be in charge of caring for your incision wounds while you recover. This includes washing them properly. (Most people are able to shower the day after surgery.) Your doctor will remove the stitches at a follow-up appointment.