The gallbladder is a small pouch-like organ on the right side of your abdomen. Its job is to store and release bile, a substance made by the liver to help you digest fats. The most frequent forms of gallbladder disease arise from having too much cholesterol or bilirubin, a liver pigment, in your bile. This leads to:
Fortunately, you can live a healthy life without your gallbladder, and the surgery to remove it is relatively simple. Without a gallbladder, bile can move directly from your liver to your intestines to aid in digestion. However, there is still some chance that you might experience side effects after gallbladder removal.
Any surgery has potential complications, including incision bleeding, movement of surgical materials to other parts of the body, pain, or infection — with or without a fever. It is possible you’ll experience digestive side effects when your gallbladder is removed.
Difficulty digesting fat
It may take your body time to adjust to its new method of digesting fat. The medications you were given during surgery may also cause indigestion. This doesn’t typically last long, but some patients do develop longer-term side effects, usually caused by bile leaking into other organs or gallstones that were left behind in the bile ducts.
Diarrhea and flatulence
Indigestion can cause diarrhea or flatulence, often made worse by excess fat or too little fiber in the diet. Bile leakage can mean having an insufficient amount of bile in the intestines to digest fat, which loosens stools.
Although removal of a diseased gallbladder usually reduces constipation, surgery and anesthesia used during the procedure can lead to short-term constipation. Dehydration can make the constipation worse.
During gallbladder removal, it’s rare but possible for a surgeon to damage the intestines. This may result in cramping. Some pain is normal following any surgery, but if it continues beyond a few days or gets worse instead of better, speak to your doctor.
Jaundice or fever
A stone that remains in a bile duct after gallbladder removal surgery can cause severe pain, or jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin. A complete blockage can cause an infection.
If there are no complications, your recovery from gallbladder surgery should go smoothly. To increase the chances of success, your doctor may suggest that you remain in the hospital for three to five days if you have open surgery. If you have keyhole, or laparoscopic, surgery, you may be able to go home the same day. Either way, try not to physically strain yourself for at least two weeks.
Your medical team will teach you how to clean your wounds and watch for infection. Do not shower until you get the green light from your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe a liquid or bland diet for the first few days. After that, he will probably suggest adding back your usual foods, little by little. Drink water throughout the day. It is also a good idea to eat simple fruits and vegetables while limiting highly salty, sweet, spicy, or fatty foods. Fiber is essential for good digestion after surgery, but limit your initial intake of the following:
- whole grains
- brussels sprouts
- high-fiber cereals
Although it is normal to have some side effects after surgery, if you notice any of the following, you should contact a doctor right away:
- pain that doesn’t get better with time, new abdominal pain, or pain that gets worse
- intense nausea or vomiting
- yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes
- no bowel movement or passing of gas for more than three days after surgery
- diarrhea that continues for three or more days following surgery
Gallbladder removal is a last resort. If your doctor does not feel that surgery is urgent, you may want to try lifestyle changes first.
Diet and exercise
Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce pain and complications from gallbladder disease by reducing the cholesterol and inflammation that can cause gallstones. A diet lower in fat and higher in fiber, and full of fruits and vegetables, can also improve gallbladder health. Swap animal fats, fried foods, and oily packaged snacks for olive oil and other healthy fats. Limit or avoid sugar.
Regular exercise can help your body reduce cholesterol and prevent gallstones from forming. Magnesium deficiency can increase your risk of developing gallstones. Eat magnesium-rich foods, including dark chocolate, spinach, nuts, seeds, and beans to improve gallbladder health.
A gallbladder cleanse usually refers to avoiding food for up to 12 hours, then drinking a liquid recipe like:
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice every 15 minutes for two hours
Apple cider vinegar and turmeric have both been shown to reduce inflammation. If you mix them with warm water you can enjoy them as a tea-like drink and may experience relief of your gallbladder symptoms. Some people find the menthol in peppermint tea to be soothing as well.
In addition to magnesium, choline plays a role in gallbladder health. According to the Harvard Health Letter, bile salts may be worth a try as well, especially if your liver has been producing thick bile. Bile acids also come in prescription strength. Speak to a doctor or nutritionist about taking one or more of these supplements if you have gallstones or a blocked bile duct.
Acupuncture may be of potential benefit to those with gallbladder disease. It most likely works by increasing the flow of bile while also reducing spasms and pain.
It’s important to note that although diet and exercise are proven methods of reducing gallbladder complications, other methods like cleanses, tonics, and supplements have not been studied extensively, and side effects may occur. Be sure to discuss these options with your healthcare provider before proceeding.
Gallbladder removal is a fairly common procedure, but it’s always possible that you may experience some side effects. Knowing how to identify and reduce symptoms, side effects, and complications before and after surgery may make for an easier experience.
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