What to Expect from Laparoscopic Gallbladder Surgery

While each person is different and surgery can vary, below is a description of what to expect from surgery in most circumstances. 

Surgery to treat gallbladder problems involves removal of the gallbladder. Even if the problems are caused by gallstones, removing the gallstones alone is not performed because the gallbladder will make more stones. 

Surgery involves placing clips on the gallbladder duct, cutting this duct, and peeling the gallbladder off of the liver where it is attached. The gallbladder is then placed in a bag and removed through one the the incisions in the abdominal wall. The gallbladder is sent to the pathologist who looks at it under the microscope and provides a report of what is found within a couple weeks of surgery. This surgery is performed through small incisions.  This kind of surgery is sometimes called Minimally Invasive Surgery (MIS), laparoscopic gallbladders surgery, or laparoscopic cholecystectomy.

What to expect on the day of surgery

You should arrive about 90 minutes prior to your scheduled operation. This will allow for time to meet various members of the team who will be taking care of you, including nurses and anesthesiology. You will have time to change into a hospital gown and have an IV line started. 

Bring a book or something to entertain you in the rare case that your surgery may be delayed.

Surgery usually takes around an hour. Depending on the patient and complexity of their condition, surgery may take more or less time. After surgery is finished, you will be taken to the recovery room where you will stay for anywhere from 2-3 hours after the procedure until you go home to continue the recovery process.

We work very closely with our anesthesia team to provide you with the ideal balance of comfort for your surgery, while providing the best quality surgical repair. Laparoscopic surgery requires general anesthesia. We also use local anesthesia to numb the area of your incisions. Our goals are your comfort and safety. 

You will likely feel relatively comfortable when you leave the hospital, as the numbing medication we inject into the area during surgery can last up to 8 hours. You should expect to feel more discomfort later at night and into the next day.


What to expect for the 2 weeks following surgery

Typically, the hardest part about gallbladder surgery recovery is the discomfort within the first 48 hours after surgery. By the third day after surgery, pain and discomfort will usually begin to improve. Swelling and discoloration any time within the first week of surgery is normal and to be expected, while it will not happen to every patient.

We strongly encourage going on walks each day following surgery. We have found that patients that get moving earlier tend to have a quicker recovery.

Patients will mostly manage their post operative pain with a combination of Tylenol and Advil taken together every 6 hours around the clock, while you are awake. 

Most patients will also leave the hospital with a prescription for an opioid analgesic.  Please keep in mind that this medication can cause constipation, and has other side effects including nausea. You may not drive while taking this medication.

Icing the area can help with some pain management as well. Make sure you do not put the ice directly on your skin, and only ice for 20 minutes at a time with a 20 minute break in between sessions.

Your wounds will have a thin layer of glue over them. This acts as a bandage that does not need to be changed. It will fall off in 2-3 weeks. It is safe to shower and let this area get wet. Do not soak in a pool, bath, or ocean for 2 weeks following surgery, as this increases the risk of infection. 

You may return to work when you feel ready. For patients that do not have jobs requiring manual labor, almost half are able to return to work by Monday or Tuesday following a Friday surgery. This will depend on your specific recovery, as everyone is different. For patients who are required to lift over 25 lbs at work, you should wait at least 2 weeks before returning to work. You may return earlier if there are light duty options. These are very individualized decisions, as job requirements and gallbladder surgery recovery times can vary.

For the first 2 weeks after surgery, you should approach all activities slowly. If you feel well (without sharp pain at your incisions) while participating in an activity, it is safe to do so. You are encouraged to walk as much as you feel comfortable, including the days immediately following surgery. You can also climb stairs in your house. 

While some soreness with returning to normal activity is normal, do not do any activity that causes you a lot of pain in the area. Activities that involve rapid twisting or turning may sometimes cause sharp aches and pains. Over the first 3 months, almost all of these symptoms resolve. If any unexpected pain or issues arise at any time after your 2-3 week post-operative appointment, please give us a call.

You may travel after this surgery if you feel comfortable enough to do so. If you are flying within 30 days of surgery, you should take a baby aspirin (81mg) for 7 days prior to your trip, throughout your trip, and for 7 days following your return flight. This is a safety measure to prevent blood clots, as the risk of blood clots increases following any procedure.

We are very interested in providing you the best experience possible. We created this page to better explain what to expect from your gallbladder surgery and recovery.  We invite you to provide us with feedback about your experience on google, vitals.com or healthgrades.com. If you have suggestions on how we can better serve you, we welcome them. If you are dissatisfied with your care, please call us directly and ask to speak to our office manager so we can make things right.

Check this out for more post-operative instructions.