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Gallbladder removal (cholecystectomy)

Gallbladder removal surgery (cholecystectomy) is a procedure for patients with gallstones that are causing painful symptoms. It involves removing the gallbladder so that gallstones can no longer get trapped and cause inflammation.

If you are experiencing pain due to gallstones, particularly after eating fatty foods, book a consultation with a specialist to find out whether surgery could improve your quality of life.

What are gallstones?

Gallstones are small hard deposits found in the gallbladder that may be caused by a chemical imbalance (e.g. too much cholesterol or bilirubin). They can be small or large, and it’s possible to have one or many gallstones.

There are certain factors that can increase your risk of developing gallstones and these include (among others) being female, over the age of forty, pregnant, overweight or obese.

What are the symptoms of gallstones?

Gallstones don’t always cause symptoms, but if they block the opening of the gallbladder, they can create an irritation known as biliary cholic or a gallbladder attack. This causes pain in the abdomen, which is sudden and intensifies rapidly. The pain might be in the upper abdomen (on the right-hand side) or in the centre, underneath the breastbone.

Gallstones can also cause back pain between your shoulder blades and pain in your right shoulder. You may also feel nauseous or experience vomiting.

How do I know if I need gallbladder removal surgery?

Gallbladder removal surgery is usually recommended for patients experiencing pain due to gallstones. It can also prevent the complications that can arise from gallstones, such as infection and pancreatitis.

Do I need my gallbladder?

The gallbladder is where your body stores bile, which is used by the stomach to aid the digestion of fatty foods. While the gallbladder does play a role in digestion, it isn’t an essential organ. You can live a normal life without it because the liver continues to make bile.

Your gallbladder removal surgery questions answered

The aim of gallbladder removal surgery (cholecystectomy) is to remove the gallbladder, preventing the pain of gallbladder attacks and the complications caused by gallstones.

Your specialist consultant will want to discuss your history of gallstones and the symptoms you have been experiencing. They may also send you for an ultrasound (or other imaging tests) or a blood test to support their diagnosis.

The procedure is usually performed laparoscopically, which is a keyhole procedure aided by a small camera.

The surgery usually takes less than two hours, during which you will be under a general anaesthetic. A tube will be placed down your throat to help you breathe.

The surgeon will make four small incisions into your abdomen and use special instruments to remove the gallbladder.

Some patients find that a diet lower in fat helps to reduce their symptoms. It is also possible to treat gallstones using drugs that make them smaller, but these can have side effects, and they don’t always work. Also, if the gallbladder isn’t removed, the gallstones can come back and cause symptoms again.

Our friendly team will ensure you are fully informed and feeling confident ahead of your surgery.

Things you may be asked to do ahead of your surgery include not eating the night before and pausing specific medications and supplements. You will also need to arrange for someone to drive you home and preferably stay with you for the first night.

The aim is for you to return home either the same day or the day after surgery. You will be given pain medication for the first few days of recovery.

Most patients can enjoy a normal, healthy diet after surgery and are able to return to work within a month, but this will depend on what your work involves. Being active will support your recovery, but we recommend that you speak to a member of our team about doing this safely.

General complications of surgery can include bleeding, pain, scarring, blood clots and infections at the wound site.

There is also a small risk of complications that are specific to gallbladder removal surgery. These can include a bile leak and injury to the bile duct, bowel or intestines. You might also experience some symptoms from post-cholecystectomy syndrome, which can include diarrhea and indigestion.

This is not a complete list of the risks involved. Your consultant will make sure you’re fully prepared and will discuss these risks and any others with you ahead of the procedure.

You may be covered by private medical insurance, or you may wish to consider spreading the cost of your surgery by opting for a monthly payment plan.

We aim to make our costs as transparent as possible, but it’s important to talk everything through in detail with your consultant at the time of your appointment. Some costs may be paid directly to the hospital, while others, such as your consultant fees, may be paid directly to the consultant.

Booking an appointment at Sulis Hospital General Surgery Unit means getting seen by a specialist and experienced consultant. You’ll also benefit from a timely appointment, with fast access to diagnostics and treatment.

If you do need surgery, you will be welcomed into a clean, modern hospital that invests in the latest treatments, diagnostic technologies and ways of working. We deliver an exceptional standard of care, which is why patients travel from all over the UK to have their surgery with us.

Treatment Overview

Combining a calming hospital environment with outstanding patient care so you can recover as quickly as possible.

  • Type of anaesthetic General

  • Covered by health insurance? Yes

  • Can I pay privately? Yes

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