Gallbladder surgery, also known as a cholecystectomy, is surgery to remove your gallbladder. Your gallbladder sits under your liver on the upper right side of your abdomen. It’s a small organ. It stores bile (digestive juice) which the liver makes.
There are two types of gallbladder surgery: Open method (traditional) or Laparoscopic method
1) Open Method
The surgeon will cut and make an incision that’s around four to six inches long in your upper right side of your abdomen. They’ll then locate the gallbladder and remove it through the incision. The procedure take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours to complete.
2) Laparoscopic Method
With this method, the surgeon uses a few small incisions. They’ll then use a thin, long tube (laparoscope) with a tiny video camera attached to it to perform the surgery. They’ll also use surgical tools. They put the laparoscope through the incisions and view a TV monitor as they remove the gallbladder through one of the incisions.
The laparoscopic method is less invasive. Nevertheless, you will still receive instructions that you need to follow for post-operative care for gallbladder removal. Although the instructions provided aren’t the same for every patient, here’s a general idea of what common instructions to help you recover will look like.
Incision Care After Gallbladder Surgery
You can remove any plastic, clear bandage that is covering your incision the day after your surgery. You may also remove the gauze underneath the bandage too. Under the gauze are small paper tapes that cover your incision.
All incisions will have these small paper tapes covering them. Under these tapes are dissolvable stitches that keep your incision closed. Do not try and remove the tapes yourself. This could result in re-opening the incision. They should fall off by themselves in around seven days. Don’t place any antibiotic cream or ointment on your new scar.
If there’s any swelling or redness around your incisions, give your doctor a call. You may notice some fluid (light red, yellow or orange) oozing or leaking from your incisions which is usually normal. But, if this fluid is thick, foul-smelling or doesn’t decrease in amount, contact your doctor.
Don’t push yourself too hard; light housework is fine. Don’t strain or breathe hard.
Hernia After Gallbladder Removal
If there’s an incisional hernia, the muscle weakness is due to the incision made in the surgery. Basically, the surgeon makes an incision in the abdominal muscles. If the muscle doesn’t heal for some reason, a gap opens when you tighten and release these muscles during activities. Instead of a strong, flat piece of muscle, there’s a piece of muscle with a small gap in it.
An incisional hernia is generally small enough where only the abdominal cavity lining or peritoneum push through. In a more severe case, portions of organs could push through, although this is very rare.
Bathing and Showering
You can take a shower at any point, but you can’t bathe for at least two weeks after your surgery. While showering, the plastic bandage is water-proof so you can wash over it. You can also wash over the paper tapes too as they can get wet as well.
Use all medication as prescribed. Pain medications should be taken with food as they could cause nausea if you have an empty stomach. You can switch to Tylenol if the doctor says it’s okay to. If you’re constipated and haven’t had a bowel movement by your fourth day after surgery, you can take an ounce of Milk of Magnesia in the morning. Ask your doctor first.
You can return to regular food once you go home after your surgery. You might want to avoid heavy or fatty foods for the first several days since some can cause temporary nausea or diarrhea after surgery.
If your stools are hard you can:
Be a little more active or try and walk without overdoing it
Take less pain medications prescribed by your doctor, if possible as some could cause constipation
Take a stool softener
Take Milk of Magnesia with your doctor’s permission. Don’t take laxatives until you’ve asked your doctor first
Try using Metamucil or ask your doctor about high-fiber foods
Diarrhea or loose stool is a common side effect of gallbladder removal and usually occurs immediately after eating. It should resolve itself in a few weeks after your surgery, however, it can lasts longer with some people. It’s not a concern unless you also have severe abdominal cramping, fever or if there’s blood in your stool.
Coughing or Lifting
Try taking 10 deep breaths and two coughs each hour, for the first week following your surgery to reduce the risk of pneumonia or lung problems. Don’t lift heavy items (over eight pounds) for the first month. Avoid pulling, pushing or pressure on the abdomen for the first month as well. Place a pillow over your incision when you cough and press inward gently to reduce coughing pressure on your incision.
Don’t drive until you’ve been to your first post-operative doctor visit. If your doctor says it’s okay to do so, you can drive after your first visit when you’re able to react in an emergency situation safely.
You shouldn’t drive while taking prescription strength painkillers (Tylenol is okay), because they affect your ability to quickly react.
Follow up for your post-operative visit with your doctor after two weeks.
Call your doctor if you experience:
Increasing abdominal swelling
Persistent fever over 101 degrees F
Pain that your medications don’t relieve
Pus from your incision
Persistent nausea or vomiting
Inability to drink liquids or eat
Redness around incisions that’s getting bigger or becoming worse
Your recovery time will depend on the type of surgery you have. You can live without a gallbladder since the liver can make enough bile by itself and will find its way to your small intestines naturally when your gallbladder is removed. Sit down with the surgeon beforehand to find out what you should expect for post-operative care.
Doctors say gallbladder surgery is a relatively safe procedure. Still, you’re always welcome to ask as many questions as you need or let the doctor know your concerns to feel confident and safe.