As a board-certified general surgeon in Glendale, Arizona specializing in minimally invasive gallbladder removal surgery at Precision Surgery and Advanced Vein Therapy, Johnny Serrano, DO, FACOS, fields many questions about this routine procedure.
One of the most frequent inquiries he receives about an upcoming cholecystectomy is: Will I have side effects after my gallbladder is gone?
Here, Dr. Serrano discusses how your digestive system adjusts to compensate for losing this helpful (but non-essential) organ, explores common, short-term side effects you can expect following gallbladder surgery, and explains how to minimize discomfort as you recover.
A short tutorial on gallbladder function
Positioned just beneath your liver, your gallbladder is a hollow, pear-shaped organ with one simple function: to store and concentrate bile. Bile is an important digestive fluid made by your liver that helps break down dietary fats and remove waste products from your body.
Your liver may be one of the largest and most complex vital organs in your body, but your gallbladder — which is basically a storage pouch for your liver — is one of the smallest, simplest, and least essential. This is good news if you happen to develop gallbladder disease, such as:
- Gallstones (pebble-like pieces of bilirubin or cholesterol)
- Sudden inflammation (cholecystitis or a gallbladder attack)
- Biliary colic pain (obstruction of the common bile duct)
Gallbladder removal surgery, also known as a cholecystectomy, is the recommended treatment approach for painful gallstones and other problematic forms of gallbladder disease that the organ’s removal would fully resolve.
Digestive system adjustment after surgery
As your liver’s “bile pouch,” your gallbladder delivers its digestive fluids to your small intestine when you eat. While you can lead a normal, healthy life without a gallbladder, your digestive system may adjust in the days and weeks following surgery.
A healthy gallbladder sends its concentrated bile directly into your small intestine whenever the dietary fats in your stomach trigger the release of gallbladder-stimulating hormones. When your gallbladder is removed, bile goes directly from your liver to your small intestines.
Side effects following gallbladder removal
Coming from your liver, bile is both less concentrated and more continuous, meaning there’s a sort of “slow drip” between your liver and your small intestines at all times. As your digestive system adjusts, you may experience temporary side effects, including:
- Loose stools or diarrhea
- Abdominal bloating; gas
- Nausea or upset stomach
- Short-term constipation
Bloating, gas, and diarrhea may last for several days or a few weeks following gallbladder surgery as your small intestine adjusts to the direct flow of bile from your liver. It’s important to note that you may not experience any of these side effects if your gallbladder wasn’t working normally before the procedure, as is often the case.
You may also experience temporary side effects from the surgery itself. This includes:
- Bruising or swelling near the incision sites
- Discomfort in your shoulder and abdomen
- Atypical moodiness, irritability, and fatigue
Short-term discomfort in your abdomen and/or shoulder comes from the gas used to inflate your belly and provide optimal visualization during the minimally invasive procedure. It should pass within a day or two and can be minimized with over-the-counter pain relievers.
Minimizing uncomfortable digestive effects
After gallbladder surgery, limiting your fat intake for a few weeks is best. Smaller amounts of fat are easier for your body to break down as your small intestine adjusts to the direct flow of diluted bile; larger amounts of fat, on the other hand, may not be fully digested, leading to gas, bloating, and loose stools. We recommend:
- Starting with small meals when you feel like eating
- Avoiding fatty meals, including fast and fried foods
- Gradually increasing your intake of dietary fiber
- Drinking plenty of fluids (unless instructed not to)
- Taking a daily walk to support improved digestion
These dietary strategies and adherence to our post-operative instructions can keep the temporary digestive effects of gallbladder removal to a minimum as you recover.
After gallbladder surgery, give us a call if…
Whereas certain temporary, mild side effects are to be expected following gallbladder surgery, severe or persistent symptoms can be cause for concern. Call us immediately if you have a fever, severe or worsening pain, ongoing diarrhea, difficulty passing gas or stool, intense nausea or vomiting, yellowing skin (jaundice), or swollen, bleeding, or draining incision sites.
These problems could indicate the emergence of complications after gallbladder surgery and should be assessed by our team immediately.
Do you have questions about gallbladder removal? We have answers. Call Precision Surgery and Advanced Vein Therapy today, or click online to schedule a visit with Dr. Serrano at any time.