Open Gallbladder Surgery for Gallstones
Open Gallbladder Surgery for Gallstones
In open gallbladder surgery (cholecystectomy), the surgeon removes the gallbladder through a single, large cut (incision) in the abdomen. You will need general anesthesia, and the surgery lasts 1 to 2 hours. The surgeon will make the incision either under the border of the right rib cage or in the middle of the upper part of the abdomen (between the belly button and the end of the breastbone).
Doctors do most open gallbladder surgeries after trying first to remove the gallbladder with laparoscopic surgery. A few people have conditions that require open gallbladder surgery.
After surgery to remove the gallbladder, bile flows from the liver (where it is produced) through the common bile duct and into the small intestine. Because the gallbladder is gone, bile no longer is stored between meals. In most people, this has little or no effect on digestion.
What To Expect After Surgery
Surgery usually involves a hospital stay of 2 to 4 days or longer. Most people can return to their normal activities in 4 to 6 weeks. Open surgery involves more pain afterward and a longer recovery period than laparoscopic surgery.
This surgery leaves a moderately large scar [10 cm (4 in.) to 20 cm (8 in.) long].
No special diets or other precautions are needed after surgery.
Why It Is Done
Several conditions may lead to surgery to remove the gallbladder. Conditions that may require open rather than laparoscopic surgery include:
- Severe inflammation of the bile duct or gallbladder.
- Inflammation of the abdominal lining ( peritonitis ).
- High pressure in blood vessels in the liver ( portal hypertension ). This is caused by cirrhosis of the liver.
- Being in the third trimester of pregnancy.
- A major bleeding disorder or use of medicines to prevent blood clotting (blood thinners or anticoagulants).
- Scar tissue from many previous abdominal surgeries.
- Abnormal anatomy in the abdomen.
In 5 to 10 out of 100 laparoscopic gallbladder surgeries, the surgeon needs to switch to an open surgical method that requires a larger incision. footnote 1 Examples of problems that can require open rather than laparoscopic surgery include unexpected inflammation, scar tissue, injury, or bleeding.
How Well It Works
Surgery reduces the risk that gallstones will come back. But gallstones sometimes form in the bile ducts years after cholecystectomy, although this is not common.
The possible complications of open gallbladder surgery include:
- Injury to the common bile duct.
- Bile that leaks into the abdominal cavity.
- Excessive bleeding.
- Infection of the surgical wound.
- Injuries to the liver, intestines, or major abdominal blood vessels.
- Blood clots or pneumonia related to the longer recovery period after open surgery.
- Risks of general anesthesia.
After gallbladder surgery, some people have ongoing abdominal symptoms, such as pain, bloating, gas, or diarrhea (post-cholecystectomy syndrome).
What To Think About
Open gallbladder surgery has been done safely for many years.
In most cases, laparoscopic surgery has replaced open surgery to remove the gallbladder. Recovery is much faster and less painful than after open surgery.
Current as of: November 14, 2014
Public Health Alerts
Public health alerts include information about outbreaks, advisories and product recalls. Click on the links below to read the most recent alerts, or visit our Public Health Alerts web page.
Want More Information?
HealthLink BC, your provincial health line, is as close as your phone or the web any time of the day or night, every day of the year.
Call 8-1-1 toll-free in B.C. or for deaf and hearing-impaired, call 7-1-1.
You can speak with a health service navigator, who can also connect you with a:
- registered nurse any time, every day of the year;
- registered dietitian from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday;
- pharmacist from 5pm to 9am, every day of the year.
Translation services are available in more than 130 languages.
FIND Services and Resources
If you are looking for health services in your community, you can use our directory to FIND hospitals, clinics, and other resources.
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Is it an emergency?
If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be life-threatening. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately. If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.