(Gallbladder Removal—Open Surgery)
by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
Click here to view an animated version of this procedure.
Cholecystectomy is the surgical removal of the gallbladder. The gallbladder is near the liver. It stores bile that is made by the liver. Bile helps in the digestion of fatty foods. The gallbladder releases bile into a system of ducts that lead to the small intestine.
The open version of this surgery is done when a less invasive version called laparoscopic surgery cannot be done.
Reasons for Procedure TOP
This surgery is used to remove a diseased or damaged gallbladder. The damage is typically caused by infection or inflammation. This is often due to gallstones, which are crystals of bile that can form in the gallbladder. Sometimes, these get stuck in the ducts that bile normally flows through. This blockage in the ducts can damage the gallbladder and the liver.
Possible Complications TOP
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
What to Expect TOP
Prior to Procedure
Your doctor will probably do some or all of the following:
Leading up to your procedure:
General anesthesia will be used. You will be asleep for the procedure.
Description of Procedure TOP
An incision will be made in the upper right area of your abdomen. The gallbladder will be separated from the structures around it, including the liver, bile ducts, and arteries.
After the gallbladder is gone, contrast material may be squirted into the bile ducts. This will help show if there are gallstones in the ducts. The duct may be opened to remove any stones. While your abdomen is open, the other organs and structures will be examined. This will be done to make sure that you do not have any other problems. The incision will be closed with sutures or staples. It will then be covered with a bandage.
A tiny, flexible tube may be placed into the area where the gallbladder was removed. This tube will exit from your abdomen into a little bulb. This is to drain any fluids that may build during the first few days after surgery. The tube is usually removed within one week of your operation.
Immediately After Procedure TOP
The gallbladder will be examined by a specialist. You will be taken to a room to recover. You will be monitored closely.
How Long Will It Take? TOP
About 30-60 minutes
How Much Will It Hurt? TOP
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
Average Hospital Stay TOP
Post-procedure Care TOP
At the Hospital
In the recovery room, the staff will monitor you for problems. In addition:
Your bowels will work more slowly than usual. Chewing gum may help speed the process of your bowel function returning to normal.
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection, such as:
There are also steps you can take to reduce your chance of infection, such as:
Recovery takes about 4-6 weeks. You will have a special diet and physical activity plan to help with your recovery. Follow instructions on wound care to prevent infection. Your doctor may advise pain medications for discomfort. Your liver will take over the functions of the gallbladder. Some people notice that they have a little more trouble digesting fatty foods, particularly for the first month after surgery.
Call Your Doctor TOP
Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications, such as:
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Gastroenterological Association
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Canadian Association of Gastroenterology
Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
Cholecystectomy. American College of Surgeons website. Available at: https://www.facs.org/~/media/files/education/patient%20ed/cholesys.ashx. Accessed May 28, 2013.
Cholecystectomy. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900759/Cholecystectomy. Updated December 21, 2015. Accessed October 10, 2016.
Clayton ES, Connor S, Alexakis N, Leandros E. Meta-analysis of endoscopy and surgery versus surgery alone for common bile duct stones with the gallbladder in situ. Br J Surg. 2006;93(10):1185-1191.
Dasari BV, Tan CJ, Gurusamy KS, et al. Surgical versus endoscopic treatment of bile duct stones. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;12:CD003327.
Gallbladder surgery: laparoscopic cholecystectomy. University of California at Davis website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed May 28, 2013.
Laparoscopic gallbladder removal (cholecystectomy) from SAGES. Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed May 28, 2013.
3/23/2015 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900759/Cholecystectomy: Short V, Herbert G, Perry R, et al. Chewing gum for postoperative recovery of gastrointestinal function. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;2:CD006506.
Last reviewed March 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review BoardDonald Buck, MD
Last Updated: 3/23/2015
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