What to Expect After Gallbladder Removal Surgery

Surgical removal of the gallbladder is a highly effective treatment for gallstones, offered in two main forms: open and laparoscopic cholecystectomy.

In the traditional open approach, patients usually stay in the hospital for two to three days. The surgeon makes a large six-inch incision in the abdomen to access and remove the gallbladder. Sometimes drainage tubes may be inserted to help remove fluids, and are typically removed after a few days.

The laparoscopic procedure, however, is less invasive. The surgeon creates four small incisions in the abdomen and uses a small video camera (laparoscope) to guide the removal of the gallbladder. This is typically done as an outpatient procedure, but proper postoperative care and lifestyle adjustments are vital for a speedy recovery and a smooth return to daily life. 

Eating and Dieting After Gallbladder Surgery

The gallbladder has a vital role in digestion by storing, concentrating, and releasing bile, a liquid produced by the liver that aids in breaking down fatty foods.

When gallbladder surgery is needed, its absence doesn’t disrupt digestion much. Instead of being stored, bile goes directly from the liver to the small intestine. However, as your body gets used to this change, you might struggle with digesting certain foods in the first few weeks after the surgery.

During your home recovery, start by slowly reintroducing foods through dietary modification. Begin with clear liquids and soft foods to ease your digestive system back into action. You can gradually add low-fat and easy-to-digest foods to your diet as you feel better. If you experience bloating, diarrhea, or gas, you should temporarily avoid some foods. Opt for smaller, more nutritious meals like lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables while skipping high-fat, fried, and spicy foods. For most people, getting back to a regular diet takes about a month after gallbladder surgery.

Stomach Changes After Gallbladder Surgery

It’s quite common to experience mild swelling and bloating after gallbladder surgery. Surgical gas is introduced into the stomach cavity during the surgical procedure to create sufficient room for the surgeon to work. Despite efforts to eliminate most of this gas after the surgery, some remain in the body. As a result, you might feel discomfort and bloating in your stomach.

This initial swelling following gallbladder surgery is perfectly normal. Although this effect is unavoidable, it’s temporary and manageable, and in most cases, the swelling should subside within a few weeks after the surgery.

Signs of Complications After Gallbladder Surgery

Apart from the expected digestive effects, gallbladder removal carries a small risk of complications. These include: 

  • Bile leakage
  • Bile duct injury
  • Injury to surrounding structures
  • Postcholecystectomy syndrome (PCS)
  • Bleeding (Hemorrhage)

Some people might experience ongoing symptoms like persistent fever, increasing pain, abdominal swelling, jaundice, nausea, and vomiting. These symptoms tend to be mild, but if they persist, consult your doctor for possible treatments, including removing any remaining gallstones through surgery or using medication to ease the symptoms.

How to Sleep After Gallbladder Surgery

Sleeping after gallbladder surgery might be a challenge due to the diminishing effect of pain medication over time. Here are some positioning tips for comfortable sleep:

  • Consider sleeping on your left side or back to reduce the pain.
  • Use pillows to provide extra support for your abdomen.
  • Sleep on your back with an elevated upper body
  • Gradually transition back to preferred sleep positions over a few weeks
  • Take pain medication.
  • Avoid heavy meals before bedtime.
  • Try aromatherapy or other relaxation techniques at bedtime.
  • Avoid distractions while in bed.

How Long After Gallbladder Surgery Can I Have Sex?

As soon as you feel physically ready, you can engage in sex, being cautious not to put pressure on your healing wounds until they’re fully healed. Typically, doctors advise waiting about one to two weeks before having sex, depending on your specific situation.

If you continue to feel any discomfort, it’s a signal that you might need more time to rest before attempting intercourse. Always prioritize your comfort and listen to your body during your recovery journey.

Resuming Activities After Gallbladder Surgery

  • Rest is essential during your recovery. Listen to your body and rest whenever you feel tired. 
  • Incorporate daily walks into your routine, gradually increasing the distance each day. Walking is beneficial in preventing blood clots in your legs and minimizing the risk of pneumonia.
  • Avoid strenuous activities like biking, jogging, weightlifting, and aerobic exercises until your doctor gives you the green light.

Most people can return to their regular lives after gallbladder removal. Successful adjustment often involves adopting coping strategies like lifestyle changes and managing fat intake for a smoother transition post-surgery. Although, some patients may experience fecal incontinence after gallbladder surgery.

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