Gallbladder surgery typically results in three or four small scars on your abdomen. These may disappear eventually, but you can take steps to help the healing process and minimize their appearance.

Your gallbladder is a small organ below your liver on the right-hand side of your abdomen. Its job is to store bile, which the small intestine uses to digest fat. If you have gallstones, a doctor may recommend removing your gallbladder.

Unlike vital organs, you don’t need a gallbladder to live a full, long life. In fact, gallbladder removal does not shorten life expectancy. Surgeons perform more than 300,000 gallbladder removal surgeries each year.

Gallbladder surgery (cholecystectomy) leaves scars. This article discusses the type of scarring that may result and provides tips on how to help them heal and minimize their appearance.

Scars form to protect and repair skin damage. Any surgery that requires an incision (cut) causes injury to the skin, which will result in scarring.

There are two procedures surgeons use to remove a gallbladder. The type of surgery you have will determine how your scars look.

Open surgery

If you have severe gallstones, scar tissue, or other complications, your surgeon may recommend removing your bladder with an open cholecystectomy. During this procedure, your surgeon will make an incision 4 to 6 inches wide in the right upper portion of your abdomen. This large cut allows access to the gallbladder so they can remove it.

Laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery

Laparoscopic cholecystectomy is a minimally invasive procedure to remove your gallbladder. Instead of one large incision, your surgeon will make three or four small incisions in your abdomen. They’ll place a viewing instrument, called a laparoscope, and surgical tools into the incisions to extract the gallbladder.

Laparoscopic surgery is more common than open surgery. It produces much smaller scars, generates less bleeding, and requires less recovery time.

For safety reasons, your surgeon may switch from laparoscopic to open surgery after beginning the procedure. In some instances, this may result in additional scarring.

gallbladder surgery scars with stitchesShare on Pinterest
Laparoscopic gallbladder removal surgery (cholecystectomy) typically leaves four small scars — one near the navel and three around the upper abdomen. Kim, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Why are there 4 scars from gallbladder surgery?

Surgical scars result from incisions made during the procedure. Laparoscopic gallbladder surgery often involves making three or four small cuts in your abdomen.

The first of these is near your belly button, through which they insert a laparoscope (tiny video camera). Through the other two or three cuts, they place surgical instruments to maneuver and remove your gallbladder.

These scars will be small and usually fade significantly over time.

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Sleeping after gallbladder surgery can be challenging during recovery. You can expect discomfort and bloating for several days.

During surgery, your surgeon will pump air into your stomach to get a better view of your gallbladder. This excess air may push upon the incision scars after surgery, causing pressure and pain.

Sleeping on your incisions can significantly increase discomfort. If the surgeon used nondissolvable stitches, sleeping on them may pull or dislodge them.

Even if you’re used to sleeping on your stomach or right side, try sleeping on your back or left side. This can reduce discomfort so you can get much-needed rest.

Your doctor will most likely discharge you with prescription medication to reduce pain so you can sleep. Take this sparingly, as needed. They may also advise you to take a gas reducer, such as simethicone (Gas-X), and a stool softener.

If you continue to feel discomfort that interferes with sleep, you can take over-the-counter pain medication once you stop taking prescription drugs for pain.

Surgical incisions are wounds that require healing. Scarring is how your body heals itself.

When doctors cut skin tissue, the tissue releases collagen, a protein that aids healing. Your body will continue to produce collagen for months or longer while it works to heal the incision. During this time, the incision scar will look red or pink in people with light skin or red or brownish-red in people with dark skin.

Eventually, collagen production stops, and the scar becomes smoother. This process is gradual and can take up to 2 years.

In people with lighter skin tones, the result is often pale, translucent scars that are lighter than your natural skin tone. These scars may become more visible if you tan the surrounding skin area.

In people with darker skin tones, the result may be scars that are lighter (hypopigmentation) or darker (hyperpigmentation) than your natural skin tone. Excess collagen production may also cause keloid scars to form.

Due to its length, a scar from open gallbladder surgery may always be obvious to the eye. Smaller incisions made during laparoscopic gallbladder surgery may become almost invisible over time.

While your scar is healing, make sure to keep it clean. Follow your doctors’ instructions about postoperative wound care to avoid infection, which can prolong the scarring process.

Once the stitches are gone, wash them with water and soap at least once a day. This will remove debris and infection-causing bacteria.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying petroleum jelly (petrolatum) to the area after daily washing. This will stop the scar from drying out and scabbing. It may also reduce itching. Cover the area with a bandage or nonadhesive gauze pad that you change and discard daily.

You can also apply silicone gels or sheets onto the area to soften the skin and flatten the scar.

What else to expect after gallbladder surgery

No matter what type of surgery you have, you’ll need some time for recovery. It may take a month or longer for you to feel like your usual self.

You’ll also have to make some eating adjustments. Living without a gallbladder will require dietary changes, like limiting your fat and fiber intake.

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Certain conditions that affect your gallbladder may require you to have surgery to remove it. How many scars you have and how quickly they heal may depend on the type of surgery you have.

Open gallbladder surgery results in one large scar that may never fully disappear. Laparoscopic gallbladder surgery will leave you with three of four small scars that may fade over time. That latter is much more common.

After your surgery, proper wound care is essential to prevent infection and minimize the time it takes for the wound to heal.