What You Need To Know About Gallbladder Attacks And Surgery (2024)

You don't think about your gallbladder until an attack sends you to the ER with vomiting and sharp abdominal pain. See why removing it is the best treatment option.

By Aziz Sadiq, DO, General Surgeon—Virtua Surgical Group

Most people don’t think about their gallbladders. That is, until they’ve eaten a spicy, greasy or fatty meal and then find themselves in the emergency room with vomiting, indigestion, and sharp pain in the upper right abdomen. It usually only takesonebad 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.

Some people have gallstones, have no symptoms, and therefore, don’t need surgery.

The gallbladder attack symptoms often start when gallstones slow or obstruct the flow of bile out of the gallbladder. The symptoms of a classic gallbladder attack include:

  • Sudden, intense pain in the upper right abdomen
  • Sudden, intense pain in the center abdomen (below the breast bone)
  • Pain between the shoulder blades
  • Pain in the right shoulder
  • Nausea/vomiting

Some gallbladder attack symptoms resolve after 1-2 hours. However, most patients usually only find complete pain relief when the gallbladder and gallstones are removed.

Thanks to modern medicine, most gallbladder removals (also called cholecystectomies) are done laparoscopically, usingminimally 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 one or two incisions. Surgery through one incision would require a slightly larger incision, but leaves a patient nearly scar-free.

How can you live without a gallbladder?

May patients ask how you can live a healthy life without a gallbladder, especially since the bile produced there helps the body digest fat. Back in the day of hunting and gathering, when food was scarce and meals were inconsistent, the gallbladder stored extra bile to help break down a diet that was mostly fat and protein. Now, because people regularly eat about 3 meals a day that consist of carbohydrates, protein and fat, they don’t need the excess bile for digestion. And, even without the gallbladder, the body can still digest these foods normally.

What are the risk factors for gallstones and gallbladder attacks?

Those who are at highest risk for gallstones and gallbladder attacks include:

  • Women
  • Women who are pregnant or postpartum
  • People age 40 and older
  • People who are overweight or obese
  • People who have a family history of gallstones
  • People who have experienced rapid weight loss

Lifestyle issues also contribute to gallstones including eating a high-fat, high-cholesterol, and/or low-fiber diet and living a sedentary life.

To schedule a consultation with a Virtua surgeon, call 1-888-847-8823.

What You Need To Know About Gallbladder Attacks And Surgery (2024)


What I wish I knew before gallbladder surgery? ›

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 aspirin or some other blood thinner, ask your doctor if you should stop taking it before your surgery.

What you need to know about gallbladder surgery? ›

A cholecystectomy is usually done by inserting a tiny video camera and special tools through several small incisions to see inside your abdomen and remove the gallbladder. This is called a laparoscopic cholecystectomy. In some cases, one large incision may be used to remove the gallbladder.

What is the best thing to do during a gallbladder attack? ›

For gallbladder pain relief, you can try applying a warm compress to the affected area. You may be able to drink peppermint tea to soothe the pain or take a magnesium supplement to help empty your gallbladder. But there's not much else you can do to relieve the pain at home.

Is there a downside to having your gallbladder removed? ›

Some people develop a wound or internal infection after a gallbladder removal. Signs of a possible infection include increasing pain, swelling or redness, and pus leaking from a wound. See your GP if you develop these symptoms, as you may need a short course of antibiotics.

What not to do the night before gallbladder surgery? ›

You may be told to stop taking medications the night before your surgery. You will receive instructions from the anesthesiologist at the “work-up.” Do Not Eat or Drink After Midnight the night before your operation.

How long is bed rest after gallbladder surgery? ›

Generally, you should only need complete rest for the first 24 hours. After that, you should attempt to get up and walk as often as possible. Being active may even help you recover faster. Your body is good at telling you when you've reached your limit, so listen and rest when it tells you.

What you Cannot do after gallbladder surgery? ›

Avoid strenuous activities, such as biking, jogging, weightlifting, and aerobic exercise, until your doctor says it is okay. Ask your doctor when you can drive again. For a laparoscopic surgery, most people can go back to work or their normal routine in 1 to 2 weeks, but it may take longer.

What foods should you avoid after gallbladder removal? ›

Don't eat high-fat foods, fried and greasy foods, and fatty sauces and gravies for at least a week after surgery. Instead, choose fat-free or low-fat foods. Low-fat foods are those with no more than 3 grams of fat in a serving. Check labels and follow the serving size listed.

What foods to eat after gallbladder surgery? ›

Doctors recommend that people undergoing gallbladder removal modify their diet in the weeks following surgery. Changes include avoiding fatty, greasy, or spicy foods and eating lean meat, low fat dairy, and leafy green vegetables. There is no specific diet for people without a gallbladder.

Does walking help a gallbladder attack? ›

Most people are wary of performing surgery to remove gallstones and look for alternatives to manage the effects. Studies have found that exercise can help reduce the risk of gallbladder problems. However, no scientific evidence shows that exercise can help remove gallstones, but it may help you manage the pain.

How long does it take for a gallbladder attack to calm down? ›

HOW LONG DOES A GALLBLADDER ATTACK LAST? Usually, a gallbladder attack will last anywhere from 15 minutes to a few hours. The length of a flare-up largely depends on the size of the gallstone.

Does drinking water help with gallbladder attack? ›

Can drinking water help with gallbladder pain? Water helps maintain your bile fluid, so staying hydrated can help you prevent the formation of gallstones, which can help you avoid gallbladder pain.

What to eat for breakfast with no gallbladder? ›

  • Oatmeal, with non-fat milk and fruit.
  • Toast with peanut butter or sunflower butter.
  • Scrambled eggs with whole grain toast.

Can I eat eggs after gallbladder removal? ›

Recommended food

You are advised to consume foods that help to prevent nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea following gallbladder removal surgery. Some examples include: Lean protein, like fish, skinless chicken, eggs, tofu and turkey.

Does life change after gallbladder removal? ›

Most people experience a temporary adjustment period in their digestive systems after gallbladder removal. For the first month or so, you might have more trouble digesting fats and heavier meals. This should gradually improve over time. Most people are able to resume a normal, healthy diet after their recovery.

Why remove gallbladder instead of stones? ›

It is often better to remove the entire gallbladder rather than just targeting the gallstones. This is because gallstones tend to recur over time, and removing the gallbladder eliminates the risk of future gallstone formation and associated complications.

What are the long-term side effects of gallbladder removal? ›

However, some people experience persistent issues known as post-cholecystectomy syndrome. Long-term effects of gallbladder removal include diarrhea, fatty food intolerance, gas, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, jaundice, and intermittent episodes of abdominal pain.

Do you poop a lot after gallbladder removal? ›

This bile can act as a laxative resulting in increased bowel movements or bowel leakage after gallbladder surgery due to looser stools that are harder for your body to control. These symptoms resolve by themselves over time, but other times, they may persist.

Do most people feel better after gallbladder surgery? ›

Gallbladder problems usually linger, and the inflammation takes its toll on your body and energy reserves. The vast majority of gallbladder removal patients feel much better after a week or two than they did before the operation.

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