Kurt Stockamp, MD, is a board-certified general surgeon with Ascension Medical Group Sacred Heart.

8 things you should know about gallbladder surgery

Dr. Kurt T. Stockamp, general surgeon at Ascension Sacred Heart in Pensacola, Florida answers questions related to gallbladder surgery.

We asked Kurt T. Stockamp, MD, general surgeon at Ascension Sacred Heart in Pensacola, Florida to help us answer some common questions people have about gallbladder surgery.

Why would you need your gallbladder removed?

One primary reason to remove your gallbladder is because the gallbladder, as an organ, is causing problems. The typical sorts of problems associated with gallbladder disease is that it causes pain, typically favoring more to the right upper abdomen. It’s not uncommonly associated with nausea, sometimes vomiting. The symptoms are not uncommonly meal-related. It can last for 30 minutes to several hours to an entire day. Ultimately, if those symptoms persist and recur, it's enough to drive someone to seek medical care. At that point, if we identify that there is in fact a gallbladder problem going on, that's the scenario that we start to talk about management, which usually leads to the decision to have surgery. 

What type of anesthesia will be administered?

Gallbladder surgery, although we approach it laparoscopically, is certainly considered major surgery. Many, if not most, major operative interventions require what we call general anesthesia and that's a technique whereby the patient is completely put to sleep and ultimately their breathing is managed by being put on a breathing machine, so they again are completely asleep during the entire procedure.

How long will the recovery period be?

Recovery after gallbladder surgery varies from person to person. Although gallbladder surgery is approached laparoscopically, it doesn't mean it's minor surgery so it's not pain-free either. As with most procedures, you start to feel better day by day. After a few days, the patient is, on average, feeling more or less back to normal. I would say that most patients are getting to that point after about a week. But, they’re still taking it easy in terms of lifting; that's the major restriction from my standpoint. I like to see lifting restrictions for about four weeks.

Will any noticeable scarring occur? 

Gallbladder surgery is just that: surgery. Although the laparoscopic technique gets away from larger incisions, there are still incisions and it technically is a little scar. How noticeable the scar is varies from person to person. It's really a function of genetics and healing, overall. However, once given the appropriate amount of healing time, the site is healed to a point that they're really minimally noticeable.

What are the potential risks and complications associated with the procedure?

There are risks of surgery of all sorts, things like bleeding infection, heart problems, lung problems, these in theory are all possible. Although these risks are high, more specific to gallbladder surgery, we talk about bile duct injury. We have to operate around the main bile duct, leading from the liver. Whenever we take the gallbladder out, that's an injury that is not insignificant. When it occurs, fortunately, it only happens about three times out of a thousand.

Are there any side/long-term effects after surgery?

The side effects that some patients identify is that after the gallbladder is out, they have more bowel activities, not necessarily escalating to the point of diarrhea, although some have that, but more frequent bowel activity. It rarely is a lifestyle-limiting problem in most patients. Aside from that, there really aren't usually any major issues with having your gallbladder removed. The gallbladder has a function, it's just not critically important.

Are there any dietary limitations that will be required during the healing process?

Typically, we say to try to stay away from rich, fatty foods after your gallbladder's out. Technically speaking, there's nothing food-wise that you need to avoid, either in the short term or in the long term. If you have some food intolerances that preceded your gallbladder surgery, those clearly may still continue as foods you need to avoid. But in general, nothing specific needs to be avoided just because your gallbladder has been removed.

When can you resume normal activities? 

From an activities standpoint, basically routine activities after gallbladder surgery are fine: driving a car, really whenever you feel up to it, it is fine. The activities of day-to-day living are all fine, but the primary restriction that I talk to patients about is just defined as lifting no more than 20 to 25 pounds for about four weeks or so. After that, no restrictions.

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Experienced surgeons at Ascension Sacred Heart deliver personalized surgery care that is right for you. To deliver personalized care, your surgeon at Ascension Sacred Heart starts by listening to understand you, your health history and your goals. We take the time to answer all your questions — big and small. Remember to tell your doctor how you are feeling at each visit. By getting to know you, we deliver care that’s right for you.

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