Recovery after surgery

Gallbladder removal surgery (cholecystectomy)

Most people go home on the same day as their surgery to remove the gallbladder. However, some people need to stay in hospital overnight. 

After gallbladder removal surgery, it is important to manage your pain with painkillers and take care of your wound

When your wound has healed, you have small scars. These scars are pink at first and gradually fade over the next few months.

Pain after surgery

You might have pain in 1 or both shoulders. This happens when your diaphragm (the muscle separating your chest and tummy) is irritated by the carbon dioxide gas used during surgery. 

To ease the pain:

  • lie on your left side with your right knee and thigh pulled up towards your chest
  • walk around to help your body reabsorb the gas
  • use a heating pad on your shoulder for 10 to 15 minutes, 2 or 3 times a day
  • take painkillers as prescribed

You might also have some discomfort around the area that we treated. This should be more comfortable after taking painkillers.

It is important that you take your painkillers regularly for the first few days. This keeps the medicine at a constant level in your body. It will then control your pain better.

After a few days, you can gradually reduce your painkillers until you do not need them.

It is important that you do not take more than the recommended amount (dose) of any medicine each day. Please read the label and patient information leaflet inside the box.

Contact the hospital ward if you have:

  • a lot of pain that does not go away, especially if you feel sick or are sick (vomit) and your stomach feels larger
  • bleeding from your wounds that does not stop
  • a high temperature
  • difficulty peeing (passing urine)
  • redness, inflammation and pain at the wound site
  • a large amount of swelling around the wound
  • an abnormal colour at or around your wound site
  • pus (a thick, yellowish liquid) coming from your wound
  • yellow skin or eyes (jaundice)

If you think that it is an emergency, please go to your nearest emergency department (A&E).

Eating and drinking

You might find it easier to eat small meals more often in the first few days after surgery. You can increase how much you eat at your own pace. 

You do not need a specific diet after your gallbladder has been removed. However, some people find that they do not tolerate (digest) fatty foods as well. 

It is always best to have a well-balanced diet. Please speak to your GP if you need advice on healthy eating. 

Taking care of your wound

We close any wounds with stitches or glue. Usually, we put a special skin glue on top of the wound. This does not need an extra dressing. With the skin glue, you can have a shower or bath as soon as you like, and gently pat the wounds dry.

Do not pick at the glue. It gently flakes off after 5 to 10 days.

If we use dressings, they are usually splash-proof. You can carefully wash or shower, but need to remove and replace the dressings if they get soaked.

There may be paper strips under a dressing. You can remove all dressings and strips a week after your surgery.

You may notice tingling, numbness and itching of the wound, and a hard lumpy feeling as the new scar tissues form. This is part of the normal healing process.

If you have stitches in the skin, they are usually dissolvable and do not need to be removed. Your nurse tells you if this is not the case.

You need to pat the wounds gently when drying. Do not rub the area.

Do not use creams or ointments on your wounds until they have fully healed. This prevents any delay in your wound healing. 

Returning to your usual activities

The general anaesthetic takes 24 to 48 hours to wear off. 

You do not need to stay in bed during this time. Gently moving around helps to get rid of any gas trapped in your stomach. It also prevents blood clots in your legs.

Do not climb long flights of stairs for 24 hours to 36 hours after surgery. Only climb stairs when you feel able.

We encourage you to return to all the activities that you enjoyed before surgery. Most people return to work within 1 to 2 weeks. 

You need to avoid heavy exercise for 10 to 15 days after surgery. This could include running or aerobics.

It is important to build up your exercise gently. Light jogging is fine after 1 week if you feel able, especially if you jogged regularly before surgery.

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

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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Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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