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Gallbladder removal

Key points

  • You may need to have your gallbladder removed if you have gallstones or gallbladder cancer.
  • The operation to remove your gallbladder is called cholecystectomy. It’s usually done using keyhole surgery.
  • Some of the side-effects of gallbladder removal are pain and discomfort, bloating and diarrhoea.
  • Most people can digest food and drink normally without a gallbladder.

Featured FAQ

Will having my gallbladder removed affect how I can digest my food?

Most people can digest food and drink normally without a gallbladder. However, around one in 10 people get diarrhoea after the operation. You can help yourself by making some changes to your diet.

See all our FAQs on gallbladder removal

This section contains answers to frequently asked questions about this topic. Questions have been suggested by health professionals, website feedback and requests via email.

I recently had my gallbladder removed and have had diarrhoea ever since – is this a result of my operation?

Answer

You may get diarrhoea after having your gallbladder removed. Speak to your GP for advice on how to manage your diarrhoea.

Explanation

About one in 10 people get diarrhoea after having their gallbladder removed.

The exact reasons why you may develop diarrhoea aren't fully understood at present. After your gallbladder is removed, bile will drain continuously into your bowel, rather than being stored and released only when you eat. This causes your liver to produce more bile salts and, if your bowel can’t absorb these, it will produce more water and salt than usual. This may cause diarrhoea. You may also develop diarrhoea because your stools tend to move through your bowel more quickly after gallbladder removal.

If you have diarrhoea for long periods of time, it can be very distressing. However, there are some things that you can do to help yourself.

  • Eat high-fibre foods such as wholegrain breads, cereals, oats, lentils, fruit and vegetables. This will help to absorb excess water and bulk up your faeces, making them firmer.
  • Try not to eat foods that make your diarrhoea worse, such as spicy and fatty foods and dairy products.

If your diarrhoea doesn’t get better, or if it’s severe, your GP may suggest medicines to ease your symptoms.

Will having my gallbladder removed affect how I can digest my food?

Answer

Most people can digest food and drink normally without a gallbladder. However, around one in 10 people get diarrhoea after the operation. You can help yourself by making some changes to your diet.

Explanation

You don't usually have to stop eating particular foods after having your gallbladder removed. However, you may find you get increased wind, bloating or diarrhoea for several weeks afterwards.
 

Increasing the amount of fibre you eat may help reduce diarrhoea because it bulks up your faeces and makes them firmer.

Good sources of fibre include:

  • wholegrain bread
  • wholegrain breakfast cereals
  • brown rice
  • fruit and vegetables
  • beans and lentils
  • oats

It's important to drink enough water if you have diarrhoea.

How much time will I have to spend off work after having my gallbladder removed?

Answer

If you have your gallbladder removed using keyhole surgery (a procedure called laparoscopic cholecystectomy), you will usually be able to go back to work within two to three weeks. It may be four to six weeks before you can go back to work if you have your gallbladder removed using open surgery.

Explanation

Most people can usually go home on the same day, or the day after keyhole surgery. It usually takes two to three weeks to make a full recovery, but this varies from person to person, so it's important to follow your surgeon's advice.

If you have open surgery to remove your gallbladder, a larger cut in your abdomen is made. This means your recovery will take longer than if you have keyhole surgery. You can usually get back to work within four to six weeks.

It's important to remember that everyone is different – some people may need to rest for longer while others may return to work after a few days. If you have a manual job where you’re doing heavy lifting, you may need to recover for longer before you can get back to work.

What is ERCP?

Answer

ERCP is a procedure that can be used to diagnose and treat gallstones.

Explanation

ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangio-pancreatography) is a procedure that can be used to diagnose gallstones and sometimes remove them. 

ERCP is done using a narrow, flexible, tube-like telescopic camera called an endoscope. The endoscope is passed through your mouth and down to your stomach to reach the place where the bile duct opens out into your intestine. Dye is squirted down a tube inside the endoscope and an X-ray is taken. This helps to show any gallstones.



If your surgeon sees a gallstone during the procedure he or she can remove it using special instruments, or widen the bile duct to allow the stone to pass through naturally. Your surgeon can also put very small drainage tubes in, called stents, which help the bile to flow around a gallstone.

You can have ERCP done as an outpatient. You will probably be awake during the procedure, though you may be given a sedative. This relieves anxiety and helps you to relax. When the procedure is finished you may need to rest until the effects of the sedative have passed. You will be able to go home when you feel ready. You will need to arrange for someone to drive you home.

 

For our main content on this topic, see Information.

For sources and links to further information, see Resources.

 

Produced by Dylan Merkett, Bupa Health Information Team, March 2013.

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  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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