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Gall bladder removal – the long-term effects


Around 80% of people who have gall stones have no symptoms and their gall bladder can remain in place unless problems develop. In the remaining 20%, gall stones can cause inflammation and a condition called cholecystitis. If you have this you tend to develop symptoms of biliary colic – intense abdominal pain accompanied by nausea, vomiting and fever – that are usually only relieved by removal of gall bladder, part of the bile duct and all the stones that can be found.


This article on gall bladder removal is by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.


It is also possible for the gall stones to shift out of the gall bladder and block the bile duct, the tube leading from the gall bladder into the intestine. This leads to obstructive jaundice, which causes the skin to yellow and become very itchy. Stones can also escape to block the pancreatic duct, causing acute pancreatitis. Again, removal of gall bladder and stones is necessary to relieve the immediate symptoms and to take away the source of the problem.


Although gall bladder removal is a necessary and sometimes life-saving operation, it is not without its risks and long-term effects. Learning more about these can help you cope if you do have to have to undergo removal of gall bladder surgery.


Removal of gall bladder and stones – what does it involve? 

Gall bladder removal can be done in one of two ways. The traditional surgical technique of open surgery involves having a fairly large incision in the abdomen. This is still done if the gall bladder is very inflamed, or if stones have lodged in the bile duct or the pancreatic duct as the surgeon needs to see the surrounding tissues. However, most gall bladder removal is now performed using a keyhole technique as this takes less time and you recover more quickly afterwards. In both cases, removal of gall bladder is done under general anaesthetic and involves at least a couple of nights in hospital.


The long-term effects of gall bladder removal

If you have removal of gall bladder and stones by laparoscopic surgery, your abdomen will be very sore for a few days but as healing takes place, you will start to feel better. The severe symptoms that you may have had before the operation will have gone away and you may feel healthier than you did for several weeks before. However, it is important to bear in mind that the gall bladder is an important organ. It is a storage sac for the bile produced by the liver, a fluid that is released into the intestine after meals to help with the digestion of fatty foods. Removal of gall bladder can have various long-term effects on digestion and the digestive system and there are important signs to look out for that may mean you need follow up treatment.

How does removal of gall bladder affect digestion? 

Once gall bladder removal has taken place there is nothing to store bile released from the liver, so this just then drips in a steady way into the intestine. It is not released just after meals, so your digestion of fatty foods is not as efficient as before the operation. You may find that eating fatty meals causes vomiting or diarrhoea as your system cannot digest enough of the fat.


Eating a low fat diet, rich in fibre and fresh fruit and vegetables can help a lot, as can taking several smaller meals each day, rather than three larger ones.


What is post-cholecystectomy syndrome? 

This is the medical term for a recognised collection of symptoms that tend to appear in around 40% of people after removal of gall bladder and stones. These symptoms are not particularly related to eating fatty meals – they tend to occur most of the time. People with post-cholecystectomy syndrome often have constant diarrhoea, bloating and wind because of the constant production of bile. Eating high fibre foods help, as can avoiding caffeine and dairy products. It is also a good idea to drink plenty of water.


Some people also find they are plagued by nagging abdominal pains. These may be due to surgical adhesions and scarring after removal of gall bladder by open surgery but they can still occur in people who have had laparoscopic surgery. Both forms of operation tend to damage the valve that controls the flow of bile into the intestine and this, and the lining of the intestine near to the point of bile release can become very irritate and inflamed.


Symptoms range from mild to severe in a few cases but can usually be controlled by drug treatment and by adjusting your diet.

Gall bladder removal and cancer risk 

There seems to be evidence for a slight increased risk of developing colon cancer in people who have undergone gall bladder removal. This is thought to be connected with continual bile release.


More gallstones after removal of gall bladder 

It is possible for gallstones to recur after gall bladder removal and for the intense pain and discomfort to come back. These symptoms may be from stones forming in the bile duct, but are more likely to be stones that were in the ducts and missed at the time of gall bladder removal. These can be removed in a second operation or they can be dissolved using drugs.


Life after removal of gall bladder

It is important to remember that most people – 60% of those who have gall bladder removal – do not experience any after effects and live normal and healthy lives. If you do experience discomfort or digestive problems after your removal of gall bladder surgery, it is better to get help and treatment sooner rather than later.

Kathryn Senior

Profile of the author

Dr Kathryn Senior is an acclaimed medical journalist who has written over 500 feature articles for leading international journals within The Lancet group. As Senior Writer at Freelance Copy she produces high quality scientific and medical content for websites and printed publications for companies and organisations in the health, medical and pharmaceutical sectors.


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