What is a cholecystectomy?
A cholecystectomy is the surgical removal of the gallbladder, an organ located just under the liver on the upper right quadrant of the abdomen. The gallbladder stores and concentrates bile, a substance produced by the liver and used to break down fat for digestion.
Types of cholecystectomies
The gallbladder may be removed in one of two ways:
- Open method. In this method, a two- to three-inch incision is made in the upper right-hand side of the abdomen. The surgeon locates the gallbladder and removes it through the incision.
- Laparoscopic method. This procedure uses at least three to four small incisions and three or more laparoscopes—small thin tubes with video cameras attached—to visualize the inside of the abdomen during the operation. The surgeon performs the surgery while looking at a TV monitor. The gallbladder is removed through one of the incisions.
A laparoscopic cholecystectomy is considered less invasive and generally requires a shorter recovery time than an open cholecystectomy. Occasionally, the gallbladder may appear severely diseased on laparoscopic examination or other complications may be apparent, and the surgeon may have to perform an open surgical procedure to remove the gallbladder safely.
Reasons for the procedure
A cholecystectomy may be performed if the gallbladder contains gallstones (cholelithiasis), is inflamed or infected (cholecystitis), or is cancerous.
Gallbladder inflammation or infection may cause pain which may be described as follows:
- Is generally located on the right side of the upper abdomen
- May be constant or may become more severe after a heavy meal
- At times, may feel more like fullness than pain
- May be experienced in the back and in the tip of the right shoulder blade
Other symptoms of gallbladder inflammation or infection include, but are not limited to, nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills.
The symptoms of gallbladder problems may resemble other medical conditions or problems. In addition, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.
There may be other reasons for your doctor to recommend a cholecystectomy.
- Your doctor will explain the procedure to you and offer you the opportunity to ask any questions that you might have about the procedure.
- You will be asked to sign a consent form that gives your permission to do the procedure. Read the form carefully and ask questions if something is not clear.
- In addition to a complete medical history, your doctor may perform a physical examination to ensure you are in good health before undergoing the procedure. You may undergo blood or other diagnostic tests.
- You will be asked not to eat or drink for eight hours before the procedure, generally after midnight.
- If you are pregnant or suspect that you may be pregnant, you should notify your health care provider.
- Notify your doctor if you are sensitive to or are allergic to any medications, latex, tape, and anesthetic agents (local and general).
- Notify your doctor of all medications (prescribed and over-the-counter) and herbal supplements that you are taking.
- Notify your doctor if you have a history of bleeding disorders or if you are taking any anticoagulant (blood-thinning) medications, aspirin, or other medications that affect blood clotting. It may be necessary for you to stop these medications prior to the procedure.
- If your procedure is to be done on an outpatient basis, you will need to have someone drive you home afterwards because of the sedation given prior to and during the procedure.
- Based on your medical condition, your doctor may request other specific preparation.
A cholecystectomy may be performed on an outpatient basis or as part of your stay in a hospital. Procedures may vary depending on your condition and your doctor's practices.
A cholecystectomy is generally performed while you are asleep under general anesthesia.
Generally, a cholecystectomy follows this process:
- You will be asked to remove any jewelry or other objects that may interfere with the procedure.
- You will be asked to remove clothing and be given a gown to wear.
- An intravenous (IV) line will be inserted in your arm or hand.
- If there is excessive hair at the surgical site, it may be clipped off.
- You will be positioned on the operating table on your back.
- The anesthesiologist will continuously monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and blood oxygen level during the surgery.
- The skin over the surgical site will be cleansed with an antiseptic solution.
Open method cholecystectomy:
- An incision (open method) will be made. The incision may slant under the ribs on the right side of the abdomen, or it may be an up-and-down incision in the upper part of the abdomen.
- The gallbladder is removed.
- In some cases, one or more drains may be inserted through the incision to allow drainage of fluids or pus.
Laparoscopic method cholecystectomy:
- Three to four small incisions will be made in the abdomen. Carbon dioxide gas will be introduced into the abdomen to inflate the abdominal cavity so that the gallbladder and surrounding organs can be more easily visualized.
- The laparoscope will be inserted through one of the incisions and instruments will be inserted through the other incisions to remove the gallbladder.
- When the procedure is completed, the laparoscope will be removed.
As with any surgical procedure, complications may occur. Some possible complications of cholecystectomy may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Injury to the bile duct—the tube that carries bile from the gallbladder to the small intestine
During laparoscopic cholecystectomy, insertion of the instruments into the abdomen may injure the intestines or blood vessels.
There may be other risks depending on your specific medical condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your doctor prior to the procedure.