When Do I Need Surgery for Gallstone?

The gallbladder collects and stores a liquid called bile that helps your body break down food. Small, hard deposits called gallstones can form in the gallbladder. This is a normal situation.

If your gallstones cause health problems, the doctor may perform surgery to remove it. Your gallbladder is a small organ in the abdomen. The stomach is the area between your body that holds many organs including the stomach and gallbladder or in other words, your gallbladder is a pear-shaped structure that stores bile, this fluid that helps digest food. If it is not working the way it should (or your bile gets out of balance), then hard pieces begin to form. It can be as small as a grain or as large as a golf ball. 

Gallstones do not go away on their own. If they begin to hurt or damage other symptoms, your doctor may decide to remove your gallbladder. This type of surgery is called cholecystectomy. It is one of the most common surgery doctors suggest. About 80% of people with gallstones will require surgery.

Types of gallstone surgeries:

Doctors can take out your gallbladder in two ways:

  • Open surgery: During this procedure, your surgeon will make a 5- to 7-inch incision (cut) in your abdomen to take out your gallbladder. If you have a bleeding disorder you will need open surgery. If you have severe gallbladder disease, you are very overweight, or in the last trimester of pregnancy, open surgery is suggested.
  • Laparoscopic cholecystectomy: Doctors also call it “keyhole surgery”. Your surgeon does not make a big start in your abdomen. Instead, he makes four small incisions. It incorporates a very thin, flexible tube that holds a light in your belly and a small video camera. These help your surgeon see your gallbladder better. Next, he will insert special equipment to remove the diseased organ called laparoscope. The incisions are then closed using medical glue.

For both types of surgery, you will be given general anaesthesia. This means that you will sleep through this process and will not feel any pain while doing so.

Do I Need Surgery?

If you do not have symptoms of gallstones, there is no need for you to have surgery. You will only need it if there is a stone, or stone gets stuck in bile ducts. This is what doctors call a “gallbladder attack”. This is an intense, knife-like pain in your stomach that can last for several hours.

If left untreated, gallstones can cause even more serious problems, such as:

  • Cholecystitis – an inflamed gallbladder
  • Pancreatitis – an inflamed pancreas
  • Cholangitis – inflammation in the bile ducts
  • Before your doctor opts for surgery, he will run several tests to see the effect of gallstones on your health. Tests may include:
  • Blood test
  • Ultrasound
  • MRI HIDA (hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid) scan – a radioactive chemical is inserted into your body to create images of any blocked nozzles.
  • Endoscopic ultrasonography – An imaging device is inserted down into your mouth and through your digestive system so that sound waves create a detailed picture of your small intestine.

Can I try other treatments first?

You may be able to manage your symptoms for a short time by making changes in your diet. This includes returning fatty foods. But dietary changes do not always help prevent gallbladder attacks. If surgery is not an option for you, your doctor may prescribe medication to dissolve your gallstones. But this work may take several months or even years. And even if your gallstones go away, there is a chance they will return.

Gallbladder Surgery Risk

You can live without your gallbladder. Your liver can make sufficient bile on its own. It will naturally find its way into your small intestine, even if your gallbladder is removed. Doctors believe that gallbladder surgery is safe, but some problems may still arise. These may include:

  • Anaesthesia problem
  • Infection
  • Is bleeding
  • Swelling
  • Bile discharge
  • Damage to the bile duct
  • Damage to your bowels or blood vessels
  • Deep vein thrombosis (blood clots)
  • Heart problems
  • Pneumonia
  • You also have a problem doctors risk called “post-cholestylactomy syndrome” (PCS). This can happen when a gallstone is released into the bile ducts or the bile is in your stomach to leak. PCS symptoms are similar to gallstones. They include abdominal pain, heartburn and diarrhoea.

Will I be in pain?

You will feel some pain after the surgery. Pain is common on the incision sites and in your abdomen. There may also be a pain in your shoulders. This is from the air injected into your stomach during the operation. Shoulder pain should be gone in 24 to 48 hours. Until your doctor tells you, you can take the medicine over-the-counter to relieve pain. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) are examples of non-prescription pain medications.

Applying ice to your incisions can also help. Ask your doctor or nurse about the correct way to use ice. Your surgeon may prescribe a small amount of narcotic pain medication to help you with the pain. 

Many recover from surgery without any narcotic pain medication, but some will require medication for a few days. If you have questions about the pain after surgery, ask the surgeon or your nurses. They should be able to tell you how long the pain will last and what to expect. You may feel sick to your stomach (paused) or throwing up (vomiting) after your surgery. This can happen due to surgery and anaesthesia. You must feel well in a day or two. Tell your doctor or nurse if you are feeling nauseous or nausea.

Health benefit

The time it takes to heal you depends on the type of surgery you have. If you have your gallbladder removed during open surgery, you will need to stay in the hospital for a few days. It may take 6 to 8 weeks for your body to recover completely. Laparoscopy is less involved, so you feel less pain and recover faster if you do open surgery. Most people who have it can go home from the hospital on the same day. You will return to your normal routine within 2 weeks.

Also Read: Gallbladder Removal & its Side-Effects

James is a blogger who loves to explore new things. His passion for helping people in all aspects of daily things flows through in the respected industries coverage he provides.

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