Surgeons perform gallbladder removal using a procedure called a cholecystectomy. It is commonly used to treat those experiencing severe pain or other complications resulting from gallstones or inflammation. Both open and minimally-invasive laparoscopic cholecystectomies are generally safe, resulting in an overall complication rate of around 2 percent, according to the University of Southern California Department of Surgery. Nonetheless, there are potentially serious risks associated with gallbladder removal.
Bleeding and Infection
Patients who undergo gallbladder removal surgery are at risk of suffering internal bleeding during or after surgery. According to MedlinePlus, patients may also develop an infection in the abdominal region as a result of bacterial contamination during surgery. The patient’s overall health, surgical history and medication and supplement use can influence these risks, according to MayoClinic.com. For example, those with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes are at higher risk of post-surgical infection, and patients who take blood-thinning medications or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications are at increased risk of bleeding.
Injury to Internal Organs and Structures
During a cholecystectomy, the surgeon may inadvertently injure nearby organs or structures. For example, injury to the bile duct or perforation of the small intestine can occur, according to the University of Southern California Department of Surgery. Damage to the liver, gallbladder or bile duct can cause bile to leak into the abdomen, resulting in severe abdominal pain that requires prompt medical treatment.
Patients with gallstones are also at risk of the stones falling out of the gallbladder and into the abdomen if the surgeon--intentionally or unintentionally--opens up the gallbladder during the procedure. The gallstones may then lead to the formation of internal lesions and scarring that cause acute or chronic pain.
Patients who undergo cholecystectomies are at risk of developing pancreatitis--an inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas sits behind the stomach and produces enzymes that aid digestion. According to MayoClinic.com, abdominal surgeries such as gallbladder removal can disrupt the normal activity of enzymes in the pancreas, leading them to activate too soon and cause inflammation and irritation to the pancreatic cells. Some cases of pancreatitis clear up after treatment with fluids, pain medication and a period of fasting or restricted diet that gives the pancreas a chance to recover; however, severe or chronic cases can lead to permanent damage to the pancreas that can lead to digestive problems or diabetes.
Individuals undergoing gallbladder removal surgery are at risk of complications related to the anesthesia. According to MedlinePlus, some patients may develop breathing or heart problems--including cardiac arrest--during or after surgery. Anesthesia can also increase the risk of developing blood clots in the legs or lungs. Rarely, allergic reactions to the anesthesia can also occur, leading to a potentially life-threatening response known as anaphylaxis in which blood pressure drops, the airways narrow, the pulse weakens and the entire body goes into shock.