What You Need to Know About Gallbladder Attacks and Surgery - Virtua Article

What You Need to Know About Gallbladder Attacks and Surgery

By Jamaal Shaban, MD, Virtua general surgeon 

Most people don’t think about their gallbladders. That is, until they’ve eaten a fatty meal and then find themselves in the emergency room with vomiting, indigestion, and sharp pain in the upper right abdomen. It usually only takes one bad gallbladder attack before people decide to have their gallbladder removed. 

What is the gallbladder?

The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ located below the liver. The liver produces bile, which helps the body digest fats. The gallbladder stores bile and releases it into the small intestine to aid digestion. Substances in the bile can harden and deposit in the gallbladder, forming a fine sludge or stones that range in size from pebbles to golf balls. 

Symptoms often start when these gallstones slow or obstruct the flow of bile out of the gallbladder. Patients usually only find pain relief when the gallbladder and gallstones are removed. And, even without the gallbladder, the body can still digest foods normally. 

Thanks to modern medicine, most gallbladder removals (also called cholecystectomies) are done laparoscopically, using minimally invasive surgical techniques. Laparoscopic gallbladder removal provides immediate symptom relief. And, the minimally invasive approach helps people recover from major abdominal surgery in just weeks. 

Can the gallbladder really be removed through a one-inch incision?

Gallbladder removal is done using a minimally invasive technique that only requires 3 half- to one-inch incisions. Each incision serves as a ‘port’ that allows the surgeon to insert and manipulate miniaturized surgical tools. These tools include a laparoscope, which is a special camera that provides a magnified view of the inside of the abdomen; forceps for grasping and holding tissues; scissors to separate and remove the gallbladder from the liver and small intestines; and, other tools used for suction or bleeding control. 

Before the gallbladder is removed from the body, it’s placed into a plastic bag and sealed. This helps prevent infection as the gallbladder is removed through one of the small incisions. The surgeon often closes the incisions with stitches that can be absorbed by the body. 

On average, minimally invasive gallbladder surgery takes 30 to 45 minutes, and patients go home the same day. While each patient is different, most recover from the surgery within 1 to 2 days and resume activities like work, driving and exercise within 2 to 3 weeks.

As surgeons refine techniques, more gallbladder surgeries may be done through only 1 or  2 incisions. Surgery through 1 incision would require a slightly larger incision, but leaves a patient nearly scar-free.

Updated October 11, 2017

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