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Gallbladder Removal Surgery (Cholecystectomy)

Gallbladder removal surgery is the standard treatment for pain caused by gallstones, small clumps of bile and cholesterol that can form in your gallbladder.

Because tens of millions of Americans have gallstones, the procedure — called cholecystectomy — is one of the most common in the country. U.S. surgeons perform more than 1 million each year, with very few complications.

Pain due to gallstones is almost always the reason for gallbladder removal surgery. People with gallbladder cancer may also need their gallbladders removed, but this usually occurs as part of a larger procedure during which the surgeon removes more than just the gallbladder.

Do I need to have my gallbladder removed?

Your gallbladder is a small pouch that stores bile, a substance it releases into your small intestine after you eat to help you digest fat. Most gallstones are minor and don’t cause symptoms or require treatment, but some can block the flow of bile. These blockages can cause pain and other complications.

You may be a candidate for gallbladder removal if your gallstones are causing one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain, especially after eating, often located in the upper right-hand side of your belly (this is the most common symptom, also called biliary colic, biliary pain or gallstone pain)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Shoulder or back pain, particularly on the right side of your body

If you have one or more of these symptoms but are not sure whether you have gallstones, talk with your primary care doctor.

If you have already been diagnosed with gallstone pain or complications and would like to discuss your options, contact a general surgeon.

Types of gallbladder removal surgery

  • Laparoscopic gallbladder surgery. Surgeons at Rush perform most gallbladder removals laparoscopically. During a laparoscopic procedure, your surgeon makes only a few small incisions in the abdomen. This minimally invasive approach results in less scarring and faster recovery as compared with open surgery. Many people who have laparoscopic gallbladder removal can go home the same day.
  • Open gallbladder surgery. Laparoscopic surgery is the best choice for most people who need to have their gallbladders removed. But open gallbladder surgery is safer for some groups of people — for example, those who have certain medical problems or a complex surgical history.

Your surgeon at Rush will discuss your options and risk factors and help determine the best procedure for you.

Risks of gallbladder removal surgery

Any surgical procedure carries a risk of bleeding, infection and damage to tissues near the site of the procedure. But gallbladder surgery has a very low complication rate.

Most people can function perfectly well without their gallbladders. After gallbladder removal, some people may experience digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea and gastrointestinal gas, but these symptoms usually improve with time.

Alternatives to gallbladder removal surgery

Gallbladder removal is the best option for most people whose gallstones are causing significant pain or other symptoms. But for people who are unable to have surgery because of other health conditions, it may be necessary to place a drain or tube to temporarily or permanently drain the gallbladder.

Why choose Rush for gallbladder removal surgery

  • Experience. Surgeons at Rush have performed thousands of gallbladder removals, giving them extensive surgical experience.
  • Care for the whole person. Gallstones are sometimes the result of other conditions, such as obesity or rapid weight loss after bariatric surgery.  If you need treatment for conditions beyond gallstones, your care team will help you find the services and specialists you need.