The gallbladder is a small organ that acts as a storage pouch and is located right under the liver. It stores bile which is produced by the liver and helps break down fats in the body. Before intake of food, the gallbladder is fluffed with bile and appears to be the size of a pear, whereas post a meal, the gallbladder appears like a deflated balloon – empty and flat. The gallbladder strains the stored bile into the small intestine via ducts (series of tubes). However, the gallbladder itself not essential and removal of gallbladder due to trouble causing symptoms is often preferred by the doctors. Removal of the gallbladder in an otherwise healthy individual will have no adverse impact or even significantly noticeable symptoms.
The gallbladder is removed in cases where a person has painful gallstones. Gallstones are tiny, stone-like particles that are formed in the gallbladder due to an imbalance in substances that make up the bile. In most cases, gallstones are not painful and show no symptoms until they restrict the flow of bile, irritating the gallbladder or pancreas. A person experiencing such conditions will display symptoms including severe stomach ache, sickness, vomiting, and pale skin and eyes.
While gallstones can also be dissolved via medications prescribed by the doctors; however, in many cases, surgery to remove the gallbladder, on the whole, may be recommended.
Surgery to remove the gallbladder or medically called the cholecystectomy is a procedure in which the gallbladder is removed surgically. This surgery is quite common and often has very low risk associated with it. In most cases, the doctors discharge the patients on the same day of the procedure. A cholecystectomy can be of the following two types:
Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy: Also known as keyhole surgery, this is a minimally-invasive procedure to remove the gallbladder. In this method, 4-5 tiny incisions are made in the abdomen to access the gallbladder by placing a tiny video camera to see inside the abdomen and using fine surgical tools to remove the gallbladder.
Open Cholecystectomy: This is a surgical procedure in which large incisions are made on the stomach to access and remove the gallbladder.
The surgery is considered safe and often does not involve a lot of risks or complications, yet some of the rare risks associated with gallbladder surgery (of any kind) are:
Infection: In some instances, a person might develop a wound or internal infection after the removal of the gallbladder. Symptoms of infection include extreme stomach ache, swelling, rash, redness, or leaking of the wound. In case of infectious symptoms, you must consult your doctor who would recommend a short course of antibiotics to cure the infection.
Bleeding: Often rare, though in a few cases, post the cholecystectomy, a person might experience bleeding from the wound. If there is bleeding, the patient must seek medical help and get treated. Usually, in cases of bleeding, another small operation to repair the wound is done.
Leakage of Bile: Chances of developing this complication are rare, but in cases where the gallbladder is removed, special clips are used to seal the tube that used to connect the gallbladder to the main bile duct. These clips might cause leakage of bile into the stomach causing stomach pain, swelling, or even a fever. In cases of bile leakage, the doctor will drain the bile out of the system and ash the inside of the stomach.
Bile duct injury: One risk factor with a gallbladder surgery is the injury that it may cause to the main bile duct. In case, while removal of the gallbladder, if the bile duct is injured, it is repaired right away but in cases where the complications arise post-surgery, another small operation might be needed to repair the damage.
Injury to the intestine, bowel and blood vessels: In very rare cases, while operating on the gallbladder, the surgical instruments might injure the surrounding organs such as intestine, bowel or the blood vessels. In such cases, the injury is repaired at the same time, but in cases where the complications appear afterwards, a different operation will be done to repair then injured organ.
Deep vein thrombosis (blood clots): Sometimes post a gallbladder removal surgery, the patient may develop blood clots also known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which can cause a lot of problems since the clot may travel to other parts of the body and block the flow of blood into the lungs.
Problems with anesthesia: Like all other surgeries that involve anesthesia, a gallbladder surgery too can leave the patient with allergies or in extremely rare cases of death due to anesthesia.
Post-cholecystectomy syndrome: With some patients, the surgery could almost become reversal because they tend to experience similar symptoms as depicted by the gallstones. These symptoms include stomach ache, indigestion, diarrhea, pale eyes and skin/jaundice, high fever, etc. Such cases are known as a post-cholecystectomy syndrome (PCS). This syndrome occurs when there is a bile leakage into the stomach or there are leftover gallstones in the bile ducts even after the surgery.
That said, the risks and complications involved in a gallbladder surgery are rare, minor and easily treatable. The surgical procure is simple, fast and allows quick recovery of the patient. Though it is best to consult your doctor before the surgery about your health, pre and post-operative care, etc.