The good news is, you don't need your gallbladder to function normally. The bad news is that after gallbladder removal surgery, you may experience digestive problems for a short period. You can reduce your symptoms by adjusting your diet.
Gallbladder Removal Surgery
Otherwise known as a cholecystectomy, gallbladder surgery removes the small, pear-shaped organ that sits beneath the liver. The gallbladder stores a fluid called bile, which your liver produces to aid fat digestion. As food is digested in the stomach and intestine, your gallbladder releases bile via the common bile duct, which connects your gallbladder and liver to your small intestine. When you have your gallbladder removed, the liver takes over the gallbladder's function.
Typically, gallbladder removal surgery is required when something blocks the bile duct. Gallstones — particles of hardened bile cholesterol — are usually the cause of gallbladder issues. There may be gallstones in the gallbladder itself, as well as the bile duct. Gallstones may also cause gallbladder inflammation, or cholecystitis, and inflammation of the pancreas, or pancreatitis. Large polyps in the gallbladder are also sometimes cause for removal.
What Happens During Gallbladder Surgery?
Gallbladder surgical processes differ depending on your condition and on your healthcare provider's treatment plan. There are two types of gallbladder surgery:
Open method: An incision is made on the right side or upper part of your abdomen and the gallbladder is removed. Drains may be inserted in the incision for drainage of fluids and pus.
Laparoscopic method: Three or four incisions are made in your abdomen and carbon dioxide gas is put in your abdomen to make it swell up so that the surgeon can easily see your gallbladder and adjacent organs. When the procedure is complete, the laparoscopic tools are removed from your abdomen and the gas escapes through the incisions or is absorbed by the body.
After both procedures, your incisions will be closed either with surgical staples or stitches, and your wounds will be covered with a sterile bandage or adhesive strips. Your doctor will also send your gallbladder to a lab for testing.
The majority of gallbladder removal surgeries are performed laparoscopically; however, some people may need to have open removal for various reasons, including:
- Severe scarring from a previous surgery
- A bleeding disorder
- Any condition that makes it hard for the surgeon to see through the incisions
Of the two types of procedure, the open method is more invasive. Patients can typically go home the day of laparoscopic gallbladder removal surgery, and full recovery takes one week, according to Mayo Clinic. After open method gallbladder surgery, patients may need to stay in the hospital three days. Full recovery can take four to six weeks.
Post-Gallbladder Removal Diet
Your diet after gallbladder removal will depend on the type of procedure you had and any symptoms and side effects you may experience after surgery. Post-cholecystectomy syndrome (PCS) is the medical term for a collection of gastrointestinal symptoms that may develop after surgery. According to a July 2014 article in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 5 to 40 percent of people will experience PCS post-gallbladder removal surgery. Symptoms may include:
- Pain in upper right abdomen
- Fatty food intolerance
There isn't a specific diet after cholecystectomy; rather, it is tailored to the individual and that person's specific symptoms. However, in many cases, a high fat intake tends to exacerbate symptoms. This is because the liver is adjusting to taking over the gallbladder's function and is not able to process large amounts of fat at one time.
- Greasy and fried foods
- Gravies and dressings
- Full-fat dairy
- Whole eggs
- Fatty cuts of red meat
The Mayo Clinic recommends avoiding any foods with more than 3 grams of fat per serving. Check the labels and be sure to pay attention to serving sizes.
In addition, increasing your fiber intake may help normalize bowel movements. A type of fiber called soluble fiber, in particular, may be especially helpful to bind bile in the stomach in between meals. Sources of soluble fiber include oats, barley, beans, lentils, peas and some vegetables. When increasing your fiber intake, do so very gradually; increasing it too quickly can cause bloating and gas.
If you experience acid reflux, avoid foods and beverages that are known triggers, including:
- Vinegar-based dressings
- Citrus fruits and juices
- Tomatoes and tomato-based foods
- Spicy foods
- Carbonated drinks
Other foods to avoid are those that are known to cause diarrhea for some people, including dairy products, caffeinated foods and beverages, and very sweet foods and beverages.
Lastly, you should avoid eating large meals, which will put too much stress on your digestive system. Instead, eat smaller meals more often.
Long-Term Dietary Recommendations
Continue to follow this diet for as long as your symptoms persist, or until your doctor says you can resume a normal diet. When you do so, begin to include more fat in your diet gradually, as adding back fat too quickly can cause further digestive problems.
Moving forward, it's important to maintain a healthy diet. Gallbladder problems are sometimes associated with being overweight. Even though your gallbladder has been removed, carrying excess body weight can still cause problems for your liver, which now has to handle the gallbladder's function in addition to its previous functions.
Being overweight can cause damage to the liver similar to alcohol abuse, according to Providence Medical Group physician Mark Thompson, MD. Obesity can cause fatty deposits to collect in the liver, leading to a condition called fatty liver disease. This can reduce your liver's ability to function properly.
Even after you recover, you should continue to be wise about your fat intake. Healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats from fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocado are important for your health, but saturated fats from fried foods and red meat are bad for your health. Limit your intake of these foods and opt for lean sources of protein including fish, chicken and beans.
Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains and moderate amounts of low-fat dairy. Starting a regular exercise plan can also help you control your weight and improve your overall health.
- MedlinePlus: "Gallbladder Diseases"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Cholecystectomy"
- Mayo Clinic: "Cholecystectomy (Gallbladder Removal)"
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "What Medical Nutrition Therapy Guideline Is Recommended Post-Cholecystectomy?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Can You Recommend a Diet After Gallbladder Removal?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy (Gallbladder Removal)"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Cholecystitis"
- Providence Medical Group: "Can Obesity Cause the Same Kind of Liver Damage as Alcohol Abuse?"