Cholecystectomy is performed using general anesthesia, so you won't be aware during the procedure. Anesthesia drugs are given through a vein in your arm. Once the drugs take effect, your health care team will insert a tube down your throat to help you breathe. Your surgeon then performs the cholecystectomy using either a laparoscopic or open procedure.
Minimally invasive (laparoscopic) cholecystectomy
During laparoscopic cholecystectomy, the surgeon makes four small incisions in your abdomen. A tube with a tiny video camera is inserted into your abdomen through one of the incisions. Your surgeon watches a video monitor in the operating room as special surgical tools are inserted through the other incisions in your abdomen and your gallbladder is removed.
Next you'll undergo an imaging test, such as X-ray or ultrasound, to check your bile duct for abnormalities. If your surgeon finds gallstones or other problems in your bile duct, those may be remedied. Then your incisions are sutured, and you're taken to a recovery area. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy takes one or two hours.
Laparoscopic cholecystectomy isn't appropriate for everyone. In some cases your surgeon may begin with a laparoscopic approach and find it necessary to make a larger incision because of scar tissue from previous operations or complications.
Traditional (open) cholecystectomy
During open cholecystectomy your surgeon makes a 6-inch (15-centimeter) incision in your abdomen below your ribs on your right side. The muscle and tissue are pulled back to reveal your liver and gallbladder. Your surgeon then removes the gallbladder. The incision is sutured, and you're taken to a recovery area. Open cholecystectomy takes one or two hours.
You'll be taken to a recovery area as the anesthesia drugs wear off. Then you'll be taken to a hospital room to continue recovery. Recovery varies depending on your procedure:
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- Laparoscopic cholecystectomy. People are often able to go home the same day as their surgery, though sometimes a one-night stay in the hospital is needed. In general, you can expect to go home once you're able to eat and drink without pain and are able to walk unaided. It takes about a week to fully recover.
- Open cholecystectomy. Expect to spend two or three days in the hospital recovering. Once at home, it may take four to six weeks to fully recover.
- Feldman M, et al. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, Management. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2010. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?eid=4-u1.0-B978-1-4160-6189-2..X0001-7--TOP&isbn=978-1-4160-6189-2&about=true&uniqId=229935664-2192. Accessed May 13, 2013.
- Patient information for laparoscopic gall bladder removal (cholecystectomy) from SAGES. Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons. http://www.sages.org/publications/patient-information/patient-information-for-laparoscopic-gallbladder-removal-cholecystectomy-from-sages. Accessed May 13, 2013.
- Cholecystectomy. American College of Surgeons. http://www.facs.org/patienteducation/operations.html. Accessed May 13, 2013.
- Sauter GH, et al. Bowel habits and bile acid malabsorption in the months after cholecystectomy. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2002;97:1732.