The gallbladder is a small organ located under the liver. The liver makes bile and transfers it to the gallbladder for storage. The gallbladder releases bile into the small intestine to aid with digestion. When the gallbladder becomes inflamed, infected or full of gallstones (a formation of solid matter within the organ), a person may display symptoms, such as abdominal pain and nausea. Gallbladder disorders may be managed and resolved through diet modification, increase exercise and pain medication. If these measures do not provide enough adequate relief, gallbladder surgery may be necessary. The removal of the gallbladder, called a cholecystectomy, may be performed as laparoscopic or open surgery. Both procedures require a certain amount of time for recovery before resuming everyday activities.
Patients having had gallbladder surgery will remain in the hospital for a period of recovery. The American College of Surgeons explains that due to the less-invasive procedures used during laparoscopic surgery, patients may be able to be discharged later the same day after their operation. Those who have had open procedures will need an additional two to three days to recover under the supervision of hospital staff. Getting up and walking is an early goal post-surgery, and nurses will help you accomplish this during your hospital stay. People who have had a cholecystectomy are usually able to begin a liquid diet in the hospital.
Some level of pain is to be expected after gallbladder surgery, though each person's tolerance will vary. Many hospitals use a comparative pain scale, which asks you to measure your pain on a scale of zero to 10 with zero being no pain and 10 being the worst you can imagine experiencing. You will be asked what your pain rating is throughout your hospitalization. Pain medications are offered in a variety of potencies, ranging from narcotics immediately post-surgery to non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs after several days. Gallbladder patients should call their medical care providers if the pain does not decrease over the course of the week or if it gets worse. If you are feeling pain at the site of your stitches or staples, notice oozing from your incision or develop a fever, get medical care as soon as possible to rule out the possibility of infection.
Your incision will be covered with either stitches, surgical staples or a type of adhesive called steri-strips. Follow-up appointments for gallbladder surgery are generally scheduled for a week to a week and a half after surgery, at which time staples or stitches will be removed. The steri-strips fall off my themselves in the same time frame. For the first week post-surgery, keeping the incision clean and dry is important. Submerging yourself in a bath is not advised, but showering is usually fine for most patients once they are at home. You'll be taught how to change bandages and how to recognize normal drainage (clear fluid) versus the oozing of a beginning infection (thick, yellow-y pus). Avoid wearing clothing that rubs against your incision site to minimize discomfort during the healing process.
Many people who have had gallbladder problems are used to a low-fat diet, as fatty foods cause more gallbladder pain. Once your gallbladder is removed, diet restrictions are most often lifted, though following a low-fat diet is still a good idea for overall health. Your body will guide you in terms of what foods you can and cannot eat following a cholecystectomy. If you feel sick to your stomach after eating fried foods, for example, then stay away from those items for a little longer. Otherwise, most gallbladder patients can begin to eat normally again. Drinking clear fluids is very important during recovery. The American College of Surgeons suggests drinking at least eight to 10 full glasses of water or other non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic beverages each day.
Diarrhea is often a side effect of gallbladder surgery. Your frequency and urge may not be high, but the stools are usually very watery in nature. Let your doctor know if you have diarrhea for more than three days. On the other side of the scale, you may become constipated if you are taking strong, narcotics for the pain. This issue can be resolved by increasing the fiber in your diet, drinking more water and trying to step down to a non-narcotic painkiller. If you cannot produce a bowel movement for three consecutive days following your surgery, call your doctor.