Gallbladder Removal: Before Your Surgery

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Gallbladder removal (cholecystectomy) showing laparoscopic type with small incisions in the chest and open type with one large incision in the chest

What is gallbladder removal surgery?

Gallbladder surgery removes a diseased gallbladder. It is also known as cholecystectomy (ko-luh-sis-TEK-tuh-mee).

This surgery is usually done as a laparoscopic surgery. The doctor puts a lighted tube (scope) and other surgical tools through small cuts (incisions) in your belly. The belly is inflated with air. The air pushes the belly away from the organs so that the surgeon can see them clearly. The incisions leave scars that fade with time.

Most people go home the same day. You probably will feel better each day. Most people have only a small amount of pain after 1 week. If you have a desk job, you can probably go back to work in 1 to 2 weeks. If you lift heavy objects or have a very active job, it may take up to 4 weeks.

In some cases, open surgery is the best choice. Your doctor may choose open surgery in advance. Or the doctor may choose it in the middle of laparoscopic surgery. In open surgery, the doctor makes a larger incision in your upper belly. If you have open surgery, you will probably stay in the hospital for 2 to 4 days. And it may take 4 to 6 weeks to get back to your normal routine.

How do you prepare for surgery?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your surgery. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance directive. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It's a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be canceled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
    Take a bath or shower before you come in for your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
    Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
    Take off all jewelry and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery center

  • Bring a picture ID.
    The area for surgery is often marked to make sure there are no errors.
    You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. You will be asleep during the surgery.
    The surgery usually takes 1 to 2 hours.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your surgery.
  • You become ill before the surgery (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the surgery.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.