I had my gallbladder removed six months ago, and I'm still having diarrhea. Is this normal?
Answer 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 that up to 20% of people undergoing gallbladder surgery develop 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
Talk to your doctor about your options and whether additional tests are recommended. Generally, mild diarrhea after cholecystectomy is not cause for concern, but speak to you doctor if you are losing weight; have bloody diarrhea, diarrhea that awakens you from sleep, fever or significant abdominal pain; or have diarrhea lasting more than a few weeks.
You may also consider limiting foods that can make diarrhea worse, including:
- Dairy products
- Greasy foods
- Very sweet foods
Sept. 29, 2021
- Kim SS, et al. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy. JAMA. 2018; doi:10.1001/jama.2018.3438.
- Feldman M, et al. Diarrhea. In: Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, Management. 10th ed. Saunders Elsevier; 2016. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 4, 2019.
- Ralston SH, et al., eds. Hepatology. In: Davidson's Principles and Practice of Medicine. 23rd ed. Elsevier; 2018. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 4, 2019.
- Jarnigan WR, ed. Postcholecystectomy problems. In: Blumgart's Surgery of the Liver, Biliary Tract, and Pancreas. 6th ed. Elsevier; 2017. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 4, 2019.
- Diarrhea. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/diarrhea. Accessed Nov. 1, 2019.
- Picco MF (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. Nov. 14, 2019.