I had my gallbladder removed six months ago, and I'm still having diarrhea. Is this normal?
Answers from Michael F. Picco, M.D.
It's not clear how many people develop the frequent loose, watery stools that characterize diarrhea after surgery to remove their gallbladders (cholecystectomy). Studies have found as few as 1 in 100 people undergoing gallbladder surgery or as many as 1 in 3 develops diarrhea.
In most cases, the diarrhea stops soon after the surgery. Rarely, it may last for years.
The cause of diarrhea after gallbladder removal isn't clear. Some experts believe that it results from an increase in bile, especially bile acids, entering the large intestine — which may act as a laxative.
Treatments you and your doctor may consider for controlling your diarrhea after cholecystectomy include:
- Anti-diarrheal medications, such as loperamide (Imodium A-D)
- Medications that impair absorption of bile acids, such as cholestyramine or aluminum hydroxide
Talk to your doctor about your options and whether you should have any additional tests. You may also consider limiting foods that can make diarrhea worse in general, including:
- Dairy products
- Greasy foods
- Very sweet foods
Feb. 25, 2014
- Fisher M, et al. Diarrhoea after laparoscopic cholecystectomy: Incidence and main determinants. ANZ Journal of Surgery. 2008;78:482.
- Fort JM, et al. Bowel habit after cholecystectomy: Physiological changes and clinical implications. Gastroenterology. 1996;111:617.
- Ros E, et al. Postcholecystectomy symptoms: A prospective study of gallstone patients before and two years after surgery. Gut. 1987;28:1500.
- Sauter GH, et al. Bowel habits and bile acid malabsorption in the months after cholecystectomy. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2002;97:1732.
- Bonis PAL, et al. Approach to the adult with chronic diarrhea in developed countries. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 11, 2013.
- Feldman M, et al. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, Management. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2010. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Oct. 11, 2013.
- Longo DL, et al. Harrison's Online. 18th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=4. Accessed Oct. 11, 2013.
- Diarrhea. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/diarrhea. Accessed Oct. 11, 2013.