The gallbladder stores bile that helps in digestion. The most common reason for removing the gallbladder is due to gallstone formation. Gallstones are rock-hard deposits that develop in the gallbladder, a small organ in the upper right abdomen just below the liver. Gallstones can be very small (the size of a grain of rice), or very large (the size of a golf ball). You can have a single stone, or many stones. Stones can be asymptomatic, or very painful.
Symptoms from gallstones
Gallstones can cause nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, yellow skin or eyes, and dark urine. The most common way patients discover that they have gallstones is due to a gallstone attack, where a stone blocks the bile duct and results in very severe pain in the abdomen for several hours. Removing the gallbladder can immediately relieve these symptoms and prevent another gallstone attack from happening.
Ultrasound and blood work are the most common methods for diagnosing gallstones. Sometimes an x-ray or other imaging may be needed.
About gallstone surgery
Gallstones do not go away on their own. If you have gallstones, gallbladder removal, also known as a cholecystectomy, is usually recommended. About 80 percent of people with gallstones will need surgery. You can live without your gallbladder. Your liver can make enough bile on its own.
According to the CDC, gallbladder removal is one of the most common procedures in the United States- about 600,000 procedures per year. There is medication that can shrink the stones, but it can take months to years to work and is largely considered unsuccessful.
Gallbladder removal surgery is done while you are under general anesthesia so you will be asleep and pain-free. Advances in robotic surgical techniques have made this procedure much easier for patients to recover from. Today, most gallbladder removals are done laparoscopically. With the laparoscopic approach to gallbladder removal, the incisions are very small and most patients go home the same day as surgery and recover much faster than with open surgery.
Despite the many advantages, there are some risks to getting the gallbladder removed. This includes risk of injuring the bile duct, liver and small intestine. As well as other risks associated with all surgeries, including infection, bleeding and blood clots.
If you have had a gallstone attack, talk with a general surgeon about having your gallbladder removed.
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