Removing gallstones is an unpleasant, yet many times necessary, procedure for those experiencing pain and discomfort due to gallstones. Pain can be caused by the moving of gallstones within the gall bladder or from blockage of the cystic or common bile duct. In most cases, removing gallstones requires the removal of the gallbladder, though other methods of removal exist. While most people never experience gallstones or pain, your chances of having gallstones are increased if you are a woman, over 55, are overweight, or have lost a large amount of weight in a short time.
Gallstones form from bile and cholesterol within the gallbladder which is normally used to help digest food. They can range from a grain of sand to over an inch in size. Many times gallstones do not cause any discomfort or will cause pain only once or twice within a lifetime; if pain and nausea become consistent, however, removing gallstones becomes necessary. Usually pain can be felt in the pit of the stomach or in the upper right half of the back. You may experience chest pain similar to a heart attack or soreness within the shoulder. Pain can happen at any point in time, but many people experience it during or after eating, especially if the meal has a high fat content. This is due to the secretion of bile from the gallbladder during digestion which moves or displaces the gallstones.
Surgery is usually the number one option for those considering removing gallstones, but there are also alternative methods. Home remedies include increasing exercise, fiber intake, and water, while others suggest consuming grapefruit juice and including olive oil in your diet. This is said to soften the stones, thus removing gallstones naturally rather than surgically. Of course, before choosing any of these alternative remedies it is recommended you talk to your doctor. You should also seek immediate medical attention if at any time before or during treatment your skin or the whites of your eyes take on a yellowish hue, since this could indicate pancreatitis or other potentially fatal problems.
If you do decide surgery is the best choice for removing gallstones, your doctor will first require an ultrasound to make sure the stones are actually present. This is a relatively simple and quick procedure. If no stones appear in the ultrasound, your doctor may ask to perform a gallbladder scan to rule out any other potential gallbladder problems. This requires an injection of an x-ray detectable dye, followed by an x-ray of the movement of the dye through your liver, gallbladder, and intestinal tract.
For removing gallstones, most doctors now rely on laparoscopic surgery, a much less invasive form of outpatient surgery. While most patients can leave a few hours after waking, it is still necessary for you to stop eating by midnight the night before, as well as make accommodations for someone to drive or pick you up from the hospital following the operation. For laparoscopic surgery, the surgeon usually creates four small incisions, one near the belly button, one higher on the abdomen, and two on the right side of the torso. These incisions allow the surgeon to place a small camera within the stomach cavity, as well as a tube for expanding the stomach with carbon dioxide. The last two slits are for surgical instruments. During surgery the patient is placed under anesthesia and the surgeon places two titanium or durable plastic clamps on the duct leading from the gallbladder. The gallbladder is then cut and removed through one of the incisions. The incisions are closed with stitches or surgical tape and the patient is able to regain consciousness.
From the start of rehabilitation after removing gallstones, you should begin by laying on your right shoulder. This allows the carbon dioxide to escape the body in a much less painful fashion. Your doctor or hospital staff will provide nausea reducing medication as well as pain killers but be sure to mention any pain, soreness, or dizziness you continue to experience. You should try to walk as soon as possible, as well as begin eating light, plain foods, such as crackers or plain jello. This is essential for the next couple weeks following your surgery while your body adapts to being unable to produce bile during digestion. Many people experience pain at the surgical sight, pain or itchiness at their incision sites, diarrhea, and nausea. These are common but be sure to consult with your doctor on pain management and effective medication use.
Post surgery you will need to keep your incisions clean and cared for. While it is recommended to leave the bandages on for two to three days, once removed it is necessary to leave them uncovered or covered with a light gauze. This will allow the wounds to heal faster and protect the incisions from moisture that may cause infection or irritation. The incision site will be closed enough for you to shower a week after your surgery. At that point you can lightly rinse the incision site with soap and water but nothing more extensive is needed.
For women having this surgery done, scar treatment is available. Products such as Mederma and Spenco do not need a prescription and can be effective for reducing the color and rigidity of the scar. Note that the scar can take up to six to 12 months to fully form and should be kept out of the sun for the first several months, post surgery. The skin will be very sensitive and prone to sun burn during this time. Even several months after the surgery, scars should be protected with sunblock if they are to be exposed to the sun.
Removing Gallstones – The Conclusion
After removing gallstones and healing from surgery, and this can take up to a few months, your daily habits can return to normal. Feel free to eat and participate in activity as normal, though a continued diet of lighter, less fatty foods may be suggested if the patient continues to feel nauseous. Overall, if pain and discomfort continues even after removing gallstones or the gallbladder, consult with your doctor to discuss other possible ailments.