This section provides information on patients with gallstones who may require surgery. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy is the term used for keyhole removal of the gallbladder, here you can find out more about the gallbladder operation, recovery and after care. Gallstone removal surgery is normally performed as a daycase or a short overnight stay.
Gallstones are small stones, usually made of cholesterol, that form in the gallbladder. In most cases they do not cause any symptoms and do not need to be treated. However, if a gallstone becomes trapped in a duct (opening) inside the gallbladder it can trigger a sudden intense abdominal pain that usually lasts between one and five hours. This type of abdominal pain is known as biliary colic. The medical term for symptoms and complications related to gallstones is gallstone disease or cholelithiasis. Gallstone disease can also cause inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis). This can cause persistent pain and a high temperature (fever) with abdominal tenderness. In some cases a gallstone can move into the pancreas, causing it to become irritated and inflamed. This is known as acute pancreatitis and causes severe abdominal pain that gets progressively worse. It is often associated with vomiting and feeling unwell.
This is the most common type of operation to remove your gallbladder. It involves using a tiny camera and surgical instruments that are inserted through small cuts (incisions) in your abdomen. Removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) is a relatively quick and safe procedure, but, like all operations, there is a small risk of complications. In around 5% of cases conversion to open surgery is required.
Risks include the following:
An infection can occur after any type of abdominal operation and occurs in around 1 in 15 cholecystectomies. Both simple wound infections and infections inside your abdomen can be treated with a short course of antibiotics
Bleeding (haemorrhage) can occur after your operation, although this is rare.
When the gallbladder is removed, special clips are used to seal the tube that connects the gallbladder to the main bile duct, draining the liver. However, bile fluid can occasionally leak out. Sometimes this fluid can be drained off by a radiologist inserting a drain guided by ultrasound. Occasionally an operation is required to drain the bile and wash out the inside of the abdominal cavity. Bile leakage occurs in around < 1% of cases.
Injury to the bile duct
The most serious complication of gallbladder surgery is injury to the bile duct, which occurs in about 1 in 500 cases. If the bile duct is injured during surgery, it may be possible to repair it straight away. In some cases, complex and major corrective surgery is needed after your original operation.
Injury to intestine, bowel and blood vessels
The keyhole instruments used to remove the gallbladder can injure surrounding structures, such as the intestine, bowel and blood vessels. The risk is increased if the gallbladder is inflamed. This type of injury is rare and can usually be repaired at the time of the operation. Sometimes injuries are noticed afterwards and a further operation is needed.