surgeons performing surgery in a hospital

Recovery After Gallbladder Surgery

This article will discuss the types of gallbladder surgery, what to expect from the recovery timeline, and ways you can recover.

Gallbladder removal surgery is called a cholecystectomy. Your gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ that holds bile, which is a digestive fluid made by your liver. Your gallbladder is located on the upper right side of your abdomen, below your liver.

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Gallbladder removal is often necessary to treat gallbladder disease. Gallbladder disease may be caused by a number of issues, including:

  • Bile duct tumors
  • Gallstones
  • Chronic acalculous gallbladder disease, which causes issues with gallbladder emptying
  • Congenital defects of the gallbladder
  • Gallbladder tumors
  • Cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder)
  • Gangrene or abscesses
  • Growths of tissue in the gallbladder
  • Sclerosing cholangitis

Symptoms of gallbladder disease may include biliary colic and acute or chronic cholecystitis.
Biliary colic is the most common symptom of gallbladder disease. It causes pain in the upper right abdomen under the rib cage, in the middle of your abdomen, or in your right shoulder blade. Biliary colic is often accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

Acute cholecystitis is inflammation caused by a persistent gallbladder blockage, infection, or tumor. The pain from acute cholecystitis is more intense and steady than the pain from biliary colic. Acute cholecystitis can cause chills, fever, nausea, and vomiting. When your gallbladder contracts, you may experience a rapid heartbeat or a sudden drop in blood pressure. Acute cholecystitis can lead to a buildup of blocked bile in your blood, which causes dark urine, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), and pale stools.

man having kidney pain

Chronic cholecystitis is often associated with milder symptoms than acute cholecystitis, allowing it to go undiagnosed and lead to long-term damage. Some symptoms of chronic cholecystitis that you may notice are digestive issues like bloating or distension in your abdomen and chronic gas, diarrhea, or nausea after you eat. Chronic cholecystitis caused by gallbladder cancer does not cause pain, but it may cause chronic inflammation with mild jaundice.

Types of Gallbladder Surgery

In this section, we will discuss the two types of gallbladder surgery: laparoscopic cholecystectomy and open cholecystectomy.

Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy

Laparoscopic cholecystectomy is a minimally-invasive type of gallbladder removal surgery.

Your surgeon will make a few small incisions on the right side of your abdomen and then insert a laparoscope (a tiny camera that is attached to a thin tube) through one of the incisions. The laparoscope projects images of your gallbladder onto a screen to guide the surgeon through the procedure. Carbon dioxide gas is pumped into your abdomen to make space and make it easier for the surgeon to see and access your gallbladder to remove it. Your gallbladder will then be removed through one of the incisions.

surgeons performing surgery in a hospital

You will likely get to go home the same day or the day after you have laparoscopic gallbladder surgery.

Open Cholecystectomy

Open cholecystectomy is a more invasive type of gallbladder removal surgery. Rather than a few small incisions, open gallbladder removal involves a single large incision that is between five and seven inches long. Laparoscopes are not used in open cholecystectomy surgery because the large incision allows for more direct access to your gallbladder and the surrounding organs.

It is unlikely that you will get to go home the same day after having an open cholecystectomy. You may need to stay in the hospital for two to four days.

What to Expect Immediately After Gallbladder Surgery

In this section, we will discuss what goes on in the recovery room after gallbladder surgery, pain management strategies, and potential risks and complications.

Post Surgery: In the Recovery Room

Both laparoscopic and open cholecystectomies are done while you are under general anesthesia, which means you will be asleep during surgery.

After cholecystectomy surgery, you will wake up in the recovery room, where you will be monitored for postoperative complications and have time to let the effects of the anesthesia wear off. A nurse will periodically check and record your body temperature, blood pressure, breathing, and pulse. Be sure to let the nurse know of any pain or other symptoms you experience or questions you have. You can expect to be in the recovery room for at least an hour, but you may need to stay longer if you experience complications.

Pain Management Strategies

You can expect to feel pain after either type of cholecystectomy surgery, but laparoscopic surgery tends to cause less pain than open gallbladder surgery because it is not as invasive.

Pain management strategies after gallbladder removal surgery can include:

  • Engaging in mild exercises like short walks and gentle stretches
  • Gently pressing a pillow over your abdomen when you cough, laugh, sit up, sneeze, stand up, or turn over in bed.
  • Getting adequate rest
  • Keeping your body in a reclined position rather than sitting upright.
  • Taking opioid painkillers like codeine, hydrocodone, and morphine
  • Taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin)
  • Taking prescription-strength NSAIDs
  • Using a soft ice pack on your abdomen to ease the pain
  • Wearing loose, comfortable clothing

Potential Risks and Complications

There are some potential risks and complications associated with gallbladder removal surgery, including:

  • Bile duct injury
  • Bile leakage
  • Bleeding
  • Blood vessel injury
  • Bowel injury
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • Internal infection
  • Intestinal injury
  • Post-cholecystectomy syndrome (PCS), which can cause symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, indigestion, and jaundice
  • Risks from general anesthetic, including allergic reaction and death
  • Wound infection
bald man looking worried

The Recovery Timeline for Gallbladder Surgery

In this section, we will discuss the recovery timeline for gallbladder surgery, including the initial recovery phase, the intermediate recovery phase, and the long-term recovery and outlook.
The total recovery time for gallbladder surgery varies depending on whether you have had laparoscopic or open surgery. It can take up to six weeks to recover from open gallbladder surgery. The recovery time following laparoscopic surgery is much shorter, usually lasting only one or two weeks

The Initial Recovery Phase

For the first few days after your surgery, you can expect to feel tired and weak, and you may have some abdominal swelling. If you had laparoscopic surgery, you might feel pain in your right shoulder for the first 24 hours or so. This pain is caused by the carbon dioxide gas that gets pumped into your abdomen during the surgery.

A day or two after your surgery, you will be able to remove your bandages and take a shower if your doctor tells you it is safe to do so. Gently pat the incision(s) dry rather than rubbing. Showers are okay, but do not take a bath in the first two weeks or until your doctor approves it.

The Intermediate Recovery Phase

Depending on the type of job you do, you may be able to return to work and normal activities one or two weeks after laparoscopic surgery. If you have open surgery, you can expect to be able to return to work and resume normal activities four to six weeks after surgery.

Diarrhea and frequent burping are common side effects you may experience in the first two to four weeks after surgery. Diarrhea may last longer than four weeks.

Long-Term Recovery and Outlook

Most people are able to live life just as they did before they had their gallbladder removed.

However, not having a gallbladder can affect how well your body digests fats, and you may experience more gas and bloating than before when you eat fatty foods.

Around 10 to 15 percent of people who have their gallbladder removed develop post-cholecystectomy syndrome (PCS), which causes symptoms similar to the issues you had before having your gallbladder removed. Treatment for PCS usually involves dietary changes, but in some cases, a second surgery may be necessary.

woman walking in nature

Post-Surgery Care and Rehabilitation

In this section, we will discuss post-surgery care and rehabilitation, including wound care and hygiene, gradual resumption of physical activity, dietary adjustments post-surgery, and recovery IV and potential benefits.

Wound Care and Hygiene

The most important part of caring for wounds as they heal is to keep them clean and dry.
If an incision is oozing fluid or rubbing against your clothes, you can cover it with gauze, but be sure to change the gauze daily.

If there are strips of tape on the incision(s), leave the tape in place for the first week or until it falls off on its own.
Any staples over the surgical site need to be kept dry until your doctor removes them, likely within seven to 10 days after surgery.

Gradual Resumption of Physical Activity

Although it takes time to recover to the point of being able to return to your usual level of activity, it is important to get some physical activity while you recover from gallbladder surgery. Inactivity increases your risk of developing blood clots. Take short walks every day and walk a bit further each day.

  • Avoid heavy lifting and other strenuous activities for the first two to four weeks.
  • Do not drive or have sex until your doctor says it is safe for you to do so.
  • Do not over-exert yourself. Rest when you feel tired, and make sure you get adequate sleep.

Dietary Adjustments Post-Surgery

Eating small potions and avoiding fatty or fried foods will help prevent bloating and diarrhea.
It is important to avoid constipation and straining during bowel movements. Taking a daily fiber supplement will regulate your bowel movements.
Drink plenty of fluids unless your doctor says not to.

Iron-rich foods placed in separate bowls in a colorful palette.

Recovery IV and Potential Benefits

Drip Hydration offers a Recovery IV treatment that contains B-complex vitamins, glutathione, Lipostat (MIC), magnesium, vitamin B12and vitamin C. This type of IV therapy will boost your immune system and may help you recover more quickly after your gallbladder surgery. Also, it is administered in the comfort and privacy of your own home.

iv bags

Living Life After Gallbladder Surgery

In this section, we will go over adjusting to digestive changes, the importance of follow-up care, and coping with emotional and physical changes.

Digestive Changes

As we discussed previously, not having a gallbladder affects the way your body digests fat, so you may experience bloating and gas when you eat fatty foods.

Importance of Follow-Up Care

Follow-up care is important after having your gallbladder removed. Be sure to follow all instructions given to you by your doctor. Do not rush into activities or dietary habits that could negatively impact your recovery. Keep your wound(s) clean and dry.

Coping with Emotional and Physical Changes

You will need to take it easy and avoid any heavy lifting or strenuous exercise while you recover from gallbladder surgery. This means you may need more help with certain daily tasks. Make sure you ask for help when you need it, and incorporate self-care activities like deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises into your daily routine.

Returning to Daily Life

Continue reading to learn about adjusting to physical limitations post-surgery and resuming work and other routine activities.

Adjusting to Physical Limitations Post-Surgery

Adjusting to the physical limitations you will need to follow after surgery can be difficult, especially for people who tend to be very active. It is a good idea to have someone at home with you to help you and keep you company. Try to relax and take the time to try a simple new hobby that does not require a great deal of physical activity.

volleyball player holding adjusting her kneepad

Resuming Work and Other Routine Activities

As we have discussed previously, you should be able to resume work and your daily routine one or two weeks after having laparoscopic surgery or four to six weeks after having open surgery.

Managing Potential Setbacks

This section will deal with managing potential setbacks, including recognizing signs of complications and when to contact your healthcare provider.

Recognizing Signs of Complications

Signs of complications after having your gallbladder removed can include:

  • Anesthesia reactions
  • Bile duct injury
  • Bile leakage
  • Heart problems, particularly if you already have heart disease
  • Hemorrhage (bleeding)
  • Hernia
  • Blood clots
  • Digestive changes such as difficulty digesting high-fat and high-fiber foods. This may cause symptoms such as abdominal pain after eating, bloating, diarrhea, and gas.
  • Infection, which may cause pain or pus at the incision site, redness, and swelling
  • Injury to surrounding structures, such as the intestines or liver
  • Numbness at or around the incision(s)
  • Pain similar to the pain you experienced before having your gallbladder removed
  • Pneumonia
  • Post-cholecystectomy syndrome (PCS)
  • Scars

When to Contact Your Healthcare Provider

It is important to know when to contact your healthcare provider after having a cholecystectomy. Contact your healthcare provider if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Bleeding or other drainage from an incision site
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Increased pain around an incision site
  • Jaundice, which causes your skin and the whites of your eyes to become yellow
  • Pain behind your breastbone
  • Redness from an incision site
  • Swelling from an incision site
  • You have not had a bowel movement or passed gas for three days


A cholecystectomy is surgical removal of the gallbladder that is done laparoscopically (less invasive) or open (more invasive).

The timeline of recovery varies depending on the type of surgery. Recovery from laparoscopic gallbladder surgery typically takes one or two weeks. Recovery from open gallbladder surgery typically takes four to six weeks.

There are lifestyle adjustments in physical activity and diet that need to be made while recovering from gallbladder surgery, but most of these are temporary.

We offer concierge doctors who can come to your home for follow-up care after gallbladder surgery. Opting for in-home post-op care will ease your recovery.

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