If you experience persistent and severe abdominal pain from gallstones, your doctor may recommend to have your gall bladder removed. Speak to your doctor to discuss your surgery options, or make an appointment with a specialist.
Here, we look at some burning questions you may have about gall bladder removal and life after surgery:
What does my gall bladder do?
Your gall bladder is a small organ connected to the liver. It stores bile from the liver before it is released into the small intestine. Bile helps your body break down food and digest fat.
Why is gall bladder removal necessary?
Your doctor may recommend gall bladder removal, known as a cholecystectomy. It is generally for symptomatic gallstones. Gallstones may cause pain, infection or obstruction.
Can I function normally without a gall bladder?
Yes, you can. Without your gall bladder, bile flows directly into the small intestine. This may stimulate the intestine and 50% of patients may experience loose motion. This symptom will usually last for only 3 – 6 months. If it happens, stay on a low-fat diet to help with the loose motion. After 3 – 6 months patients will return to their normal status.
Is my life expectancy affected?
Gall bladder removal doesn’t shorten your life expectancy. In fact, it may even increase it as your post-surgery habits ‘force’ you to make healthier dietary choices. By eating smaller amounts of fats, oils, dairy products, and processed foods, you lose weight and reduce your risk of developing conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. As you are also taking in fewer calories per day, your body will digest your food and use energy more efficiently.
Will I have to make any dietary changes?
Your body will have to adjust to having no gall bladder, so, in the months after your operation, you can test your limits to work out what kind of food work best for you. The good news is that the changes you make will encourage you to lead a healthier lifestyle.
Here are some tips:
Limit your fat intake
Fat is going to be an issue so you need to know what you are putting into your body and how much of it is hidden fat. Read food labels and avoid processed food when you can. Eating whole foods eliminates the guesswork from your meal plans. Choose boiled or grilled food over fried and opt for low-fat choices when it comes to milk and cheese. Fat should make up only 30% of your diet.
Take frequent but smaller portions throughout the day
Your digestive system works slightly differently now so overwhelming it with too much food in one sitting puts too much strain on your liver and it can’t produce the amount of bile needed to help your body digest the food. Divide your meals into smaller dishes every day that include lean meat or other non-processed protein sources and fruit and vegetables.
Reduce the amount of fibre you take in
In the initial months after your surgery, you may find that eating foods high in fibre causes bloating, pain and diarrhoea. Limit your intake of offending foods like cauliflower, cabbage, beans, nuts, cereals and bread and introduce them slowly back into your diet one at a time until you can work out your limits.
Reduce your caffeine intake
Caffeine increases the production of stomach acid, which makes your stomach contents empty faster. Without the normal amount of bile in your stomach that used to be produced by your gall bladder, you will experience more gas, bloating and pain as the food is digested. Start to introduce coffee and tea back into your diet gradually to see how much you can handle.
Record what you eat
Being more aware and mindful of what you are eating is going to help you recover faster and return to life as normal. Record your food intake, breaking down each ingredient and how much you eat, and note the side effects that come up. Look for patterns so you can moderate your diet accordingly. This will help you to avoid or limit foods that you now know cause problems.
In summary, your body can still function well without your gall bladder. Be mindful, though, to control your diet to avoid or limit food that will cause digestive issues – introducing these healthy dietary habits into your lifestyle post-surgery will also benefit your overall health in the long run!
Article reviewed by Dr Winston Woon, general surgeon at Gleneagles Hospital
Jewell, T. Can you live without a gallbladder. 17 April 2018. Retrieved 11 April 2019 from https://www.healthline.com/health/can-you-live-without-a-gallbladder#life-expectancy
5 ways to avoid discomfort after your gallbladder removal. 29 July 2015. Retreived 11 April 2019 from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-ways-to-avoid-discomfort-after-your-gallbladder-removal/