Harvard Health Letter

Gallbladder surgery

Most people who have their gallbladders removed are glad to see them go, but for a small percentage, the operation seems to cause bowel problems.

Like your appendix and spleen, the gallbladder is something you can do without. Each year, about a million Americans have their gallbladders surgically removed because the organ has become inflamed (cholecystitis) or contains gallstones. If the gallstones become lodged in a duct, the result can be excruciating pain. Serious infection and inflammation are risks, too. Most people are more than happy to bid their gallbladders adieu if that's what it takes to make the pain or threat of complications go away.

The medical term for the operation is cholecystectomy (pronounced KO-luh-sis-TEK-tuh-me). For over 10 years, the vast majority of cholecystectomies have been performed using laparoscopic techniques. Laparoscopic surgery involves tiny incisions (less than an inch long) and special instruments. A small video camera (the laparoscope) allows the surgeons to see what they are doing. Because abdominal muscles don't need to be cut — and the incisions are so small — people heal much faster.

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