Gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ located beneath the liver. Its function is to store and secrete bile into the small bowel and help with digestion of food, especially fat. When substances in the bile form hard particles, gallstones are formed. This is a slow process and can take several years to complete. The exact cause for this is unknown. Risk factors for developing gallstones including family history, female gender, age (4th decade of life), excess weight or history of rapid weight loss, and prior pregnancies. Gallbladder disease is very common, occurring in up to 15-20% of population in certain ethnicities.
Surgery is indicated when gall stones cause symptoms. Common symptoms include pain after food, nausea, occasional vomiting, and poor digestion. Pain may occur in the upper abdomen, radiating to right flank and shoulder. It may be quite severe, last minutes to hours after eating, and may even mimic chest pain. It is imperative that patients experiencing symptoms discuss their options with their physician. Delay in care may result in serious complications such as inflammation and infection of gall bladder (cholecystitis), infection within common bile duct (cholangitis) from migration of stones outside the gallbladder, or inflammation and infection of pancreas (pancreatitis).
Because a defective gall bladder is the source of gallstones, surgery involves its complete removal. Fortunately, having a gall bladder is not essential for a normal life and body adjusts quickly by enlarging the common bile duct in order to store excess bile.
Surgery for removal of the gall bladder, known as laparoscopic cholecystectomy, is commonly performed using minimally invasive approach through four very small incisions (cuts). This approach minimizes pain and other complications and is a leap forward from the traditional open approach to gallbladder surgery, which is rarely indicated. In the majority of instances, procedure is performed in ambulatory surgery centers and patients are discharged home after surgery. Patients can expect to fully recover within a few days and return to work within a week. In the first few weeks after surgery, it is advisable to avoid fatty meals (to prevent bloating) while your body is adjusting to your new anatomy.