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You’ve had painful attacks caused by gallstones. To treat the problem, your healthcare provider wants to remove your gallbladder. This surgery is called a cholecystectomy. Taking out the gallbladder can ease pain. It will also help stop future attacks. You can live a healthy life without your gallbladder. You may also be able to go back to eating foods you liked before your gallbladder problems started.

Before your surgery

Be prepared:

  • Tell your healthcare provider what medicines you take. Include both prescription medicines and those bought over the counter. Also include vitamins, herbs, and supplements. Be sure to mention if you take prescription blood thinners. This includes warfarin, clopidogrel, and aspirin.

  • Have any tests your provider asks for, such as blood tests.

  • Follow any directions you are given for not eating or drinking before your surgery. You may need to take some medicine with sips of water. Talk with your healthcare provider.

The day of surgery

When you arrive, you will get ready for surgery:

  • An IV (intravenous) line will be put into a vein in your arm or hand. This gives you fluids and medicine.

  • An anesthesiologist will talk with you about anesthesia. This is medicine used to prevent pain. You will get general anesthesia. This puts you into a state like deep sleep through the procedure.

During surgery

There are 2 methods for taking out the gallbladder. Your healthcare provider will choose which way is best for you:

  • Laparoscopic cholecystectomy. This is most common. During surgery, 2 to 4 small cuts (incisions) are made. A thin tube with a camera is used. This is called a laparoscope. The scope is put through one of the cuts. It sends images to a video screen. Surgical tools are put through other cuts. The gallbladder is taken out using the scope and these tools.

  • Open cholecystectomy. One larger incision is made. The surgeon sees and works through this cut. Open surgery is most often used when scarring or other factors make it a better choice for you.

In some cases, safety requires a change from laparoscopic to open surgery during the procedure.

Closeup of surgical instrument holding gallbladder while another prepares to cut cystic duct.
Clips close off the duct connecting the gallbladder to the bile duct. The gallbladder is then removed.

After surgery

You will be sent to a room to wake up from the anesthesia. You will likely go home the same day. In some cases, you will need to stay overnight. If you had open cholecystectomy, you may need to stay in the hospital for a few days. When you are released to go home, have a family member or friend ready to drive you. If you are told to take medicines after surgery, do so as told. If you are told to do breathing exercise, do them as directed. You will be scheduled for a follow-up visit.

Risks and possible complications of gallbladder surgery

All surgeries have risks. The risks of gallbladder surgery include:

  • Bleeding

  • Infection

  • Injury to the common bile duct or nearby organs

  • Blood clots in the legs

  • Bile leaks

  • Hernia at incision site

  • Pneumonia

Call your surgeon if you have these symptoms:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Redness, pain, or drainage at the incision site

  • Yellow color to your skin or eyes

  • Severe pain or cramping in your belly

  • Vomiting that continues and unable to keep down fluids

  • Unable to have a bowel movement within 3 days

  • Trouble urinating

  • Rectal bleeding

  • Leg swelling

Call 911

Call 911 if you have sudden shortness of breath or trouble breathing.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jen Lehrer MD
Online Medical Reviewer: John Hanrahan MD
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2019
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