5 Signs You May Need Gallbladder Surgery

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What are the symptoms of a gallbladder attack?

You probably haven’t thought much about this tiny organ – unless you have experienced the extreme pain of a gallbladder attack, otherwise known as inflamed gallstones. But the gallbladder can be a source of big problems.

This article will help you understand the signs of gallbladder pain and when you should seek a surgeon’s advice.

What Is the Gallbladder? What are Gallstones?

The gallbladder (gall bladder) is a sac that sits in the upper right part of your abdomen (belly), which collects and stores bile produced by the liver. Think of the gallbladder like a liquid soap dispenser and bile is the soap that helps the digestive tract absorb fatty foods.

With normal function, the gallbladder does this painlessly and automatically. All liquid soap dispensers form soap scum with dehydration. Essentially, gallstones are dehydrated soap scum largely composed of cholesterol. They are originally soft and mushy, like Play-Doh, but harden with time.

Signs Your Gallbladder May Need To Be Removed

Most people with gallstones don’t know that they have them – but in some cases, a gallstone may cause the gallbladder to become inflamed, causing pain, infection, or other serious complications.

You may need gallbladder surgery if you have pain or other symptoms caused by gallstones.

Common symptoms of gallbladder problems include:

  1. Abdominal Pain. Sudden but steady pain in the upper right side or middle of your belly which can be dull, sharp or cramping.
  2. Nausea. Queasiness or vomiting are common symptoms.
  3. Jaundice. Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.
  4. Indigestion. Gastrointestinal disturbances like bloating, heartburn, and gas.
  5. Fever. An elevated temp can be a sign of gallbladder infection.

If your gallbladder is causing severe problems, your doctor will likely recommend surgery to remove it. The good news is that you can live without it.

Atypical Gallbladder Problems – Can Surgery Help?

What are atypical reasons that a gallbladder may need to be removed? Expand each condition to learn more.

This is a condition where the gallbladder is restricted in some way and is not emptying properly. This results in pressure in the gallbladder resulting in pain.  This rarely deteriorates into an emergency but commonly causes ongoing misery.  The pains can be bad enough to send you to the emergency room or just miserable enough to seek evaluation from your physician.  This condition responds to cholecystectomy 85% of the time and is a relatively common affliction.

When one mentions polyps, one thinks about polyps of the colon and the risk for cancer; however, gallbladder polyps are not that way.  The vast majority of gallbladder polyps are cholesterol deposits in the wall of the gallbladder indicating a hyper-saturated solution with crystals in the bile, which act as gallstones.  This can cause gallbladder pains and sometimes does not.  It is commonly misunderstood by patients as a cancer risk and that cancer risk is only if the polyps exceed 1 cm in diameter.  Patients with gallbladder pain and gallbladder polyps typically respond well to gallbladder surgery – 90% of them improve after surgery.  Gallbladder polyps and gallstones are commonly confused and 50% of patients with gallbladder polyps actually have gallstones too.

Just as the gallbladder can function at a low-level, it can also function at too high of a level resulting also in high pressures mimicking gallbladder pains.  This condition is commonly labeled as a normal finding on a nuclear scan and consequently many caregivers miss the importance of this condition.  If the gallbladder is functioning at 80% over, it is “too hot”.  Patients with hyperdynamic gallbladder respond better to surgery than any other condition in most series with 82-100% response rate in relief of their pain.  This pain generally is a misery factor and does not generally result in emergencies.

Patients with episodic pain in the right upper abdomen lasting for over 30-minutes, who are found to have normal studies may be in a condition where their gallstones are present but not detectible by ultrasound.  15% of the time the ultrasound does not adequately demonstrate gallstones when they are actually there.  The National Institute of Health consensus report suggests that in this situation the best course of action is to go ahead and proceed to remove the gallbladder with a good expectation of symptomatic improvement (60%) and frequently finding gallstones that were undetected otherwise.

In a recent article by Dr. Wright published in the American Journal of Surgery (2019), Wright looked at over 600 gallbladder surgeries performed at Meridian Surgery Center and found that a total of 182 patients (over 30%) had their gallbladders removed for atypical reasons.  In the patients with biliary dyskinesia, 84% of patients had symptom resolution. 82% of patients with hyperdynamic gallbladders responded, 80% with polyps responded, and 57% of those with biliary colic and negative workup.

How Is the Gallbladder Removed?

Laparoscopic cholecystectomy (sometimes called keyhole gallbladder removal due to the small incision and use of a tiny camera during the procedure) is the most common approach for gallbladder surgery and what we perform here at Meridian Surgery Center.

The procedure is fairly simple: Several small incisions are made in the patient’s abdomen, the gallbladder is separated, sutures applied, and the gallbladder removed. In pre-op appointments, our surgeons take all the time needed for you to understand the details of the procedure and recovery expectations.

How Long is Gallbladder Surgery Recovery?

Laparoscopic procedures are less invasive, outpatient surgeries performed under general anesthesia, which means you’ll be asleep and pain-free during the operation and home within the day.

The average recovery time to return to normal work and activities is usually 1-2 weeks.

What Are the Risks of Gallbladder Removal?

Gallbladder removal surgery is considered a standard, safe procedure. Complications of laparoscopic surgery are rare. But, like any type of surgery, there are risks of complications, which can include bleeding, infection in the surgery area, blood clots, bile leakage, heart problems, hernias (when a small amount of your gut, or intestine, or other tissue bulges through the muscles that cover it). Your doctor will make sure that you completely understand the benefits and risks of surgery before your operation.

Learn more about Cascade Hernia & Surgical Solutions, specializing in gallbladder and gallbladder removal surgical options for Tacoma, Puyallup, and South Sound WA areas.

“I just had gallbladder surgery on Friday. He is very compassionate, his staff is very friendly as well. He called the next evening to see how I was doing. I highly recommend Dr. Wright”

It’s easy to get the care you need.

24/7 appointment scheduling. No long waits. We can help you every step of the way.

Schedule Now