A cholecystectomy is a surgery to remove the patient's gallbladder.

Why does the gallbladder need to be removed?

Removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) is one of the most common operations performed in adults. It is becoming much more frequent operation in children as well.

A physician may recommend a cholecystectomy for several conditions including:

  • stones in the gallbladder (cholelithiasis)
  • inflammation of the gallbladder due to stones (cholecystitis)
  • ineffectiveness of the gallbladder (biliary dyskinesia)
  • stones that have moved into the biliary system and are causing symptoms (gallstone pancreatitis)

Who gets gallstones?

Gallstones are very common in Hispanic, Native American and Caucasian populations. It is relatively uncommon in African-Americans. People with certain hematologic conditions such as sickle cell anemia, hereditary spherocytosis and thalassemia are at particular risk for developing gallstones.

How do I know if I have gallstones?

Common symptoms of gallstones in children and adolescents include:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen on the right side or towards the middle
    • This pain may travel to the back or to the right shoulder
    • This pain may also be associated with nausea and vomiting
    • This pain may come on after eating a meal high in fat
  • If a stone is blocking a duct, fever may develop or the eyes may turn yellow - in this case, seek immediate medical attention

How are gallstones diagnosed?

A physician who suspects that their patient has gallstones will frequently order an ultrasound. Using this test the physician will look at the liver and bile duct system to determine if there are stones in the gallbladder. Ultrasound exams are noninvasive and is not painful.

If more information is needed, a physician may order a gallbladder scan or MRI.

How is the gallbladder removed?

Gallbladders are most often removed using Minimally invasive surgery (MIS), also known as laparoscopic cholecystectomy. During a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, once the patient is under anesthesia, a surgeon typically makes four small incisions on the abdomen and inserts a high definition camera (called an endoscope) and thin instruments into the abdomen to remove the gallbladder.

A new, cutting edge method of performing surgery called Single-incision Surgery is now being used to remove the gallbladder in select patients. In this approach, instead of four incisions, the surgeon makes one incision hidden in the belly button and removes the gallbladder in an otherwise similar way to the standard four-incision approach.

What is my recovery going to be like following a cholecystectomy?

The operation itself lasts approximately one hour. Patients are given pain medication if they feel any discomfort, and most spend the night in the hospital and are released following breakfast the next morning. It is common to have pain or discomfort at the incision sites and/or behind the right shoulder (due to the gas used to inflate the abdomen during surgery). Most people feel much better after the first day and only require stronger pain medication the first one to two days following surgery.

Your surgeon will instruct you as to when you may return to normal activities including physical education and sports. You will generally be seen in the surgeon’s office approximately 2 weeks following surgery. If you have any questions or concerns prior to this, please contact our office and the surgeon or our nurse practitioner or physician assistants will address your questions.

More information about cholecystectomy

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For more information on Cholecystectomy at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, give us a call at the phone numbers below. We serve families in the greater Tampa Bay area and beyond.

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800-456-4543, Ext. 4170

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