Gallstones are the most common condition requiring gallbladder surgery, although other conditions of the gallbladder may also warrant surgical intervention. Gallstones are almost always treated with surgical removal of the gallbladder. Non-surgical treatments for gallstones are only used if the patient has a medical condition preventing surgery, primarily because the stones almost always recur after treatment.
Surgery for gallstones consists of removal of the gallbladder, called a cholycystectomy. The gallbladder is a non-essential organ, and its functions are readily taken up by the surrounding organs. Since gallstones almost always recur unless the gallbladder is removed, cholycystectomy is the usual course of treatment.
Gallbladder surgeries can usually be done laparoscopically, using camera-guided instruments inserted through small incisions. In rare cases, open surgery via a larger incision may be necessary. Laparoscopic surgery does not require cutting through the abdominal muscles and has a shorter recovery time and fewer complications.
Laparoscopic gallbladder removal requires only a brief hospital stay, and many patients are back home the same day. A week or so of rest and special diet can be expected, and low energy and soreness will persist for a few weeks after surgery. Plan to have some assistance for household tasks, avoid heavy lifting and plan some meals ahead of time so your first few days will be as easy as possible.
Complications from gallstone surgery are uncommon, particularly with laparoscopy, but there is a risk of injury to the bowel or bile ducts that might require additional surgery. Recurrence of gallstones is also possible despite removal of the gallbladder-they may appear in the bile duct even years later. These stones can usually be removed using an endoscopic procedure where a camera and instruments in a tube are swallowed and guided through the digestive system.
Most people recover quickly from gallbladder surgery and resume their usual activities quickly. Once you are fully recovered from surgery you can resume your normal diet, free from the pain of gallstone attacks.