Digestive Problems After Gallbladder Surgery

Any type of surgery, no matter how small, comes with risk factors and side effects post-operation. Most patients with typical gallbladder operations usually have little to no side effects, but in some patients, digestive problems and other medical issues can occur. 

The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ that is part of the digestive system and located under the liver. Its job is to regulate the flow of bile. Bile helps break down food, so when it’s needed, the gallbladder pushes the right amount of bile through tubes called bile ducts to the small intestine. 

Gallstones are the most common reason for gallbladder removal surgery. Gallstones form when substances within bile build up and harden. This includes bile salts, cholesterol, and bilirubin. Having gallstones is quite painful, and surgery is often needed. There are other diseases of the gallbladder as well, however. These include:

  • Common bile duct stones. These stones reside in the bile ducts, not the gallbladder itself. 
  • Gallbladder cancer. This is a very rare disease that affects less than 4,000 people in the United States every year. However, it is a serious disease, as gallbladder cancer can metastasize. 
  • Cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder). This happens when a gallstone is blocking the bile duct, and bile can’t pass through. 
  • Perforated gallbladder. Treating gallstones is extremely important—if they are left untreated, it can lead to perforations in the gallbladder. Its contents may spread to other parts of the body, causing infection.
  • Common bile duct infection. A bile duct infection is extremely serious, however, if it is caught early, it is easily treatable. 
  • Chronic gallbladder disease. Constant inflammation (cholecystitis) can lead to scarring of the gallbladder.

However, your body still has the capability to live without your gallbladder. The liver can transport the bile through the common bile ducts without using the gallbladder as a middleman. Because your body can live without this organ, most patients do not experience significant side effects after surgery; however, some do.

Gallbladder Removal Side Effects

Some gallbladder removal side effects may be severe and some may be mild. It’s important to let your gastroenterologist know if you experience any type of side effects after you’re surgery. While side effects are rare, some of the most common gallbladder problems after surgery include:

  • Trouble digesting fats. For a month or so after your operation, you may have difficulty digesting fatty foods. 
  • Temporary or chronic diarrhea. Because the liver now has to adapt to its new role, patients may experience diarrhea after gallbladder surgery. This temporary diarrhea typically passes on its own and no treatment is necessary. It’s estimated that up to 20 percent of patients in the United States have diarrhea after surgery. However, if you have diarrhea for three days or more after your operation, let your doctor know immediately. Chronic diarrhea may also be coupled with abdominal pain and an urgent need to make a bowel movement. 
  • Temporary constipation. In contrast, some patients experience constipation after gallbladder removal surgery. Like temporary diarrhea, this usually goes away on its own.
  • Retained stone. It is possible for a gallstone to remain, even after surgery. This can cause fever, nausea and vomiting, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), and abdominal pain.
  • Intestinal injury. While very rare, the intestines can be damaged after gallbladder removal surgery. 

If you’re experiencing any type of digestive distress after your gallbladder operation, let your physician know right away. 

How to Manage These Side Effects 

Note: This is for information purposes only and is not medical advice. 

As previously stated, you should let your Gi doctor know immediately if you’re experiencing symptoms, particularly if you suspect a retained stone or an intestinal injury. However, other side effects can be managed with some lifestyle changes. 

If you have symptoms of:

Trouble Digesting Fats

If you’re struggling when you eat fatty foods, the best thing to do is to follow a low-fat diet for roughly a month after your operation.

Temporary or Chronic Diarrhea 

If you experience diarrhea for more than three days, remember to let your gastroenterologist know. Temporary diarrhea will subside quickly, and often, no treatment is needed. For chronic diarrhea, your doctor may suggest adhering to a low-fat diet, and they may prescribe medication, which will bind the excess bile acids. 

Temporary Constipation

Constipation is often connected with the pain medications prescribed post-surgery, and this is also why it’s usually temporary. Eating a diet rich in fiber and drinking plenty of water can help prevent constipation. Your doctor may prescribe a stool softener or other medication to help you have a bowel movement.

Retained Stone

If you think you may still have a gallstone, let your physician know. You may require an additional procedure in order to remove it. 

Intestinal Injury

This is the most serious complication from gallbladder removal surgery but also the rarest. However, this side effect requires immediate medical attention if you believe you have an internal injury. 

When to See a Gastroenterologist 

Generally speaking, it’s important to let your gastroenterologist know of any symptoms you have after gallbladder removal surgery. Most cases of constipation and diarrhea will go away on their own, but you can still consult your doctor to see what their suggestions are. 

Chronic diarrhea requires medical attention, and a retained stone and intestinal injury require medical care as well. If you think you may have an intestinal injury, it’s wise to go to the emergency room to be evaluated. 

Even if you feel as if your symptoms are minor, your gastroenterologist needs to make a firm diagnosis to rule out more serious problems. If you don’t require medicine or medical treatment, your doctor can give you suggestions on how to manage your symptoms. 

Scheduling a Consultation

Contact us today at one of our Care Centers for comprehensive and quality care and treatment for digestive problems after gallbladder removal surgery and all other types of GI disorders. Our team of board-certified gastroenterologists, pathologists, anesthesiologists, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants will assist in your care and provide you with the best possible treatment. 

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