Gallbladder surgery is one of the most common surgical procedures performed in the U.S. today, with more than 700,000 procedures taking place each year. While the vast majority of patients experience no postoperative complications or changes, a small percentage may develop symptoms of fecal incontinence which can range from occasional minor leakage to more significant loss of bowel control. Symptoms can develop soon after surgery; other times, they may not appear until months afterward or longer.
What Does Your Gallbladder Do?
Your gallbladder acts as a reservoir for bile, a digestive acid produced by your liver. During digestion, your gallbladder delivers bile to the small intestine in varying amounts, depending on the food that’s being digested. Once the gallbladder is removed, your liver delivers bile directly to the small intestine in smaller quantities. For the vast majority of patients, this change presents no problem. But a small percentage of patients may experience digestion-related problems like loose bowels or diarrhea, an increase in the number of their bowel movements or bowel leakage. Sometimes, these symptoms resolve by themselves over time, but other times, they may persist.
Why Does Gallbladder Removal Sometimes Cause Incontinence?
Before gallbladder removal, your liver delivered bile to the gallbladder, which regulated the delivery of bile to the small intestine. After your gallbladder was removed, bile was delivered directly to the small intestine. Because bile acts as a laxative, the removal of this extra layer of regulation sometimes makes stool so loose that it is hard to control. After a cholecystectomy, many people develop temporary diarrhea that stops soon after the surgery. However, in some cases, diarrhea does not stop on its own. In these cases, you’ll want to pursue anti-diarrheal options with your doctor.
Treatments to Control Your Fecal Incontinence
Fecal incontinence can cause significant embarrassment, anxiety and even depression, but the good news is, today there are lots of treatments that can be used to control symptoms, including medications that can help bind bile and prevent stool leakage. Some patients may also benefit by relatively simple changes in their dietary habits. For instance, because bile plays a big role in the digestion of fats, avoiding fatty foods or adopting a low-fat diet may provide relief from symptoms over time. And since bile is not being stored, eating smaller meals several times a day rather than three large meals can also help.
Studies have shown many people with fecal incontinence are too embarrassed to speak to their doctor about their symptoms. As a result, they live with unnecessary shame and inconvenience. If you suffer from fecal incontinence, remember: your doctor has heard it all before.
Incontinence Treatment in Middle Tennessee
If you live in middle Tennessee and are struggling with incontinence after a gallbladder surgery, let our experienced doctors help. Make an appointment with the Incontinence Institute today for an evaluation so you can start leading a happier, more confident life.