Overview

Gallbladder removal surgery (cholecystectomy)

Surgery to remove your gallbladder is called a cholecystectomy.

Your gallbladder is not an essential organ. It is a small sac below your liver. The gallbladder stores bile, which is a greenish-brown liquid that your liver makes. Bile helps you to digest food, particularly fats.

If your gallbladder is removed, bile travels to your intestines directly from your liver. You can digest food as normal.

We might recommend that your gallbladder is removed if you have small stones called gallstones that cause pain, blockages or inflammation (swelling). The surgery stops the pain and prevents complications from gallstones, including:

  • yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • inflammation of your pancreas

You can find out more about surgery to remove your gallbladder on the NHS website.

Treatment

Laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery is when we make several small cuts rather than 1 large cut. You might have 4 small cuts, which measure 0.5 to 1.5cm.   

You have a general anaesthetic. This means that you are asleep during the surgery and do not feel any pain.

The surgery normally takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Usually, you can go home on the same day.

Read more about what happens during the surgery

The benefits of keyhole surgery to remove your gallbladder include:

  • less pain after surgery
  • a shorter hospital stay
  • an earlier return to full activity and work 
  • less visible scars on your stomach

Risks of keyhole gallbladder removal surgery

There are risks with any surgery. Your doctor talks about the risks with you before the procedure. 

Possible risks of keyhole surgery to remove your gallbladder include:

  • bleeding
  • infection
  • needing open surgery (where we make 1 large cut to remove your gallbladder). This might mean you have to stay longer in hospital
  • injury to a bile duct (1 of the tubes that carries bile in and out of the liver) or leakage from the bile ducts. You might then need more surgery
  • injury to your digestive organs
  • numb patches in the skin around your wound. They usually last 2 to 3 months
  • deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which is a blood clot in the large veins of your legs. We ask you to wear elastic stockings before and after surgery to prevent this
  • complications or side effects from the general anaesthetic, such as a chest infection

Other treatment options

Open gallbladder removal surgery

In some cases, you might need open surgery to remove your gallbladder. This is when we make 1 large cut rather than several small cuts.

In 5 out of 100 cases (5%), we might have to turn a keyhole procedure into an open procedure. This happens if we find unexpected inflammation and scar tissue. Your doctor can give you more information about this. 

Medicines

In rare cases, you can be treated with medicine that dissolves the gallstones. Your doctor explains this option if it applies to you. 

We want to involve you in decisions about your care and treatment. If you decide to have gallbladder removal surgery, we ask you to sign a consent form. This says that you agree to have the treatment and understand what it involves.

If you would like more information about our consent process, please speak to a member of staff caring for you.

Follow-up appointments

We do not usually see people who have keyhole gallbladder removal surgery in our clinic after the procedure. If you have any questions or concerns, please speak to your medical team.

Resource number: 1661/VER6
Last reviewed: March 2022
Next review: March 2025

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Contact us

Please call us if you have any questions about gallstones or your treatment for gallstones.

Phone: 020 7188 2673 for clinical nurse specialists

Phone: 020 7188  8875 for the consultant's secretary 

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Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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