Gallbladder / gallstone removal (cholecystectomy)

We offer the latest surgical techniques and expert aftercare for gallbladder removal to relieve painful gallstones.

Sometimes also called

  • Laparoscopic cholecystectomy
  • Open cholecystectomy

At a glance

  • Typical hospital stay
    0-1 nights for keyhole surgery 3-5 nights for open surgery

  • Procedure duration
    1-2 hours

  • Type of anaesthetic
    Usually general

  • Available to self-pay?
    Yes

  • Covered by health insurance?
    Yes

Why Spire?

  • Fast access to diagnostic tests and scans
  • Consultants who are experts in their field
  • Transparent pricing
  • 98% of our patients are likely to recommend us to their family and friends

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021

What is gallbladder removal?

Gallbladder removal is a common operation that is often recommended if you are suffering from painful gallstones or gallbladder disease.

Your gallbladder is a small, pouch-like organ that stores and releases bile – a chemical substance that breaks down fats. You can easily live without your gallbladder, so if it’s causing problems your consultant may suggest removing it.

Gallstones are hard fatty lumps that form inside your gallbladder. They are often not painful, but sometimes they can cause more serious complications. This is known as gallbladder disease and includes:

  • Blocked bile ducts
  • Pancreatitis
  • Inflamed gallbladder

When this happens, you may experience these symptoms:

  • Sudden and intense pain in the upper right part of your abdomen
  • Pain after eating
  • Heartburn and indigestion
  • A feeling of fullness and excess wind
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • High temperature
  • Jaundice (a medical emergency)

Gallbladder removal will relieve pain and inflammation and prevent new gallstones forming.

It won’t affect your digestion because bile is made in your liver. Instead of being stored in your gallbladder, bile will drip straight from your liver into your digestive system.

Your consultant can diagnose gallbladder disease and decide if gallbladder removal is right for you by asking about your symptoms and medical history, and carrying out tests, including:

  • Blood and urine tests
  • Cholangiography – an X-ray using a dye to detect bile duct blockages
  • Ultrasound scan
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan

Find your nearest Spire hospital

Almost all of our hospitals offer gallbladder removal surgery. We have dedicated gastroenterologists (consultants specialising in the digestive system) who are highly skilled at this procedure and use many of the latest techniques and innovations.

Spire Nottingham Hospital

How gallbladder removal surgery works?

A gallbladder removal operation can either be done by laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery or traditional open surgery.

With keyhole surgery, your surgeon will:

  • Make small incisions (cuts) in your abdomen just under your ribs
  • Insert gas into your abdomen (tummy) so they can see your gallbladder and surrounding organs more clearly
  • Insert a laparoscope, a thin tube with a light and tiny camera, which sends images from inside your body to a video screen
  • Insert tiny surgical instruments through your other incisions to remove your gallbladder
  • Release the gas from your abdomen
  • Stitch your incisions

With open surgery, your surgeon will:

  • Make one incision underneath your ribs
  • Use normal-size surgical instruments to remove your gallbladder
  • Close your wound with stitches

Keyhole surgery is usually the first choice because you recover faster and are left with smaller scars. But it’s not suitable for everyone. Your surgeon will explain which method is better for you and why.

Sometimes, even if keyhole surgery is planned, your surgeon may need to change this to open surgery during the operation, for instance if they can’t see your gallbladder clearly. They’ll explain this beforehand and answer any questions you may have.

Your operation: what to expect

How long does a gallbladder removal operation take?

Between one and two hours for keyhole surgery, and often a little longer for open surgery.

Anaesthetic

Gallbladder removal surgery is nearly always carried out with a general anaesthetic, when you’re asleep. However, occasionally, it may be performed under regional anaesthetic (spinal or epidural anaesthetic) instead.

Pain after gallbladder removal

With keyhole gallbladder removal, there tends to be less pain after than with open surgery. However, you’re still likely to feel some discomfort once your anaesthetic wears off. Everyone experiences pain differently but you’ll be given painkillers to help you manage this afterwards.

Your hospital stay

If you have keyhole surgery, you’ll usually go home on the same day or the following day. If you have open surgery, you may be in hospital for three to five nights.

Your recovery: what to expect

Recovery time

Your gallbladder removal recovery will depend on the type of surgery you have. With keyhole surgery, you may make a full recovery within a couple of weeks. With open surgery, it could take around four to eight weeks.

After a gallbladder removal, it’s normal to experience:

  • Swelling and bruising around your healing wounds
  • Pain or soreness around your healing wounds and abdomen
  • Nausea
  • Bloating and wind
  • Diarrhoea

Your lifestyle after treatment

You’ll need to arrange for someone to take you home after your operation and to stay with you for the first 24 hours. You may want to arrange help with tasks such as shopping and cleaning, especially if you’ve had open surgery.

Your consultant will advise when you can get back to normal activities, including work and driving. This will depend on the work you do and which type of surgery you have. You should also check with your motor insurance company before driving.

You can eat a normal diet after a gallbladder removal, though you may want to start with small meals. If you get temporary side effects such as wind, diarrhoea or indigestion, try:

  • Limiting caffeine
  • Limiting fatty and spicy foods
  • Gradually increasing your fibre in the form of fruit and vegetables and whole grains

Risks and complications

Most people have a gallbladder removal operation without complications, but all surgery carries some risks. Your consultant will explain them to you before you go ahead.

Although rare, gallbladder removal complications can include:

  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Bile leakage into your abdomen
  • Damage to a bile duct
  • Accidental injury to surrounding tissues including your intestines, bowel and blood vessels
  • Blood clots in your veins
  • Post-cholecystectomy syndrome, when gallstones are left in your bile duct or bile leaks into your stomach

At Spire hospitals, your safety is our top priority. We have high standards of quality control, equipment and cleanliness and an ongoing system of review and training for our medical teams.

Treatment and recovery timeline

As a guide, here’s a typical recovery timeline for gallbladder removal surgery:

View interactive timeline View full timeline

0-1 days

Leave hospital after keyhole surgery

3-5 days

Leave hospital after open surgery

10-14 days

Back to work, light activities and driving after keyhole surgery

4-8 weeks

Back to work, light activities and driving after open surgery

  • 0-1 days


    Leave hospital after keyhole surgery

  • 3-5 days


    Leave hospital after open surgery

  • 10-14 days


    Back to work, light activities and driving after keyhole surgery

  • 4-8 weeks


    Back to work, light activities and driving after open surgery

The treatment described on this page may be adapted to meet your individual needs, so it's important to follow your healthcare professional's advice and raise any questions that you may have with them.

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