Signs You Might Need Gallbladder Surgery

Gallbladder symptoms can range from minor and annoying to excruciating and unbearable. In some cases, the symptoms are temporary, and an episode passes quickly. However, it is a frequent problem that the symptoms persist or recur, which indicates that the underlying problem needs to be treated.

When gallbladder pain occurs, it’s usually in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen, just below the rib cage. While common, this is not the only location, as the pain can occur anywhere in the abdominal region and often will feel like it is radiating around the back towards the right shoulder blade. Severe pain may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

When a gallbladder issue is both painful and persistent, removing the gallbladder through surgery called a cholecystectomy is the recommended treatment. Your gallbladder is an organ that you can very easily live without. Its function is to store bile that is used to aid in the digestion of certain foods.  If the gallbladder is removed, then the liver and the biliary system will take over such that it’s not likely that a cholecystectomy will cause you any digestive issues.

Still, surgical decisions aren’t made lightly.  Even though a cholecystectomy is one of the safest and most common outpatient surgeries performed in this country, the decision for surgery is one that should only be made by someone who is qualified to actually perform the surgery.  While a specialist like Dr. deVilleneuve can help you decide if gallbladder surgery is the best option for you, there are signs you can watch for that may indicate the need for a cholecystectomy is imminent.

Disorders of the gallbladder

Though there are several problems that can affect the gallbladder, the most common by far is the formation of gallstones. These are hard particles that are made of bile, cholesterol, calcium, and several other components which have a tendency to get lodged in the bile ducts, effectively blocking the passage of bile out of the gallbladder.

When this occurs it can cause severe pain.  The “classic” presentation is a sharp, stabbing pain in the right upper part of the abdomen that starts about 30 minutes after eating a meal with a high-fat content.  In reality, however, gallstones can cause symptoms anytime regardless of what your diet consists of.

Gallstones, in addition to causing pain, can also cause other problems as a result of their obstructing the bile ducts.  Depending on where the obstruction occurs, gallstones can cause pancreatitis as well as making you jaundiced. When gallstones get lodged in what is called the neck of the gallbladder, it can lead to the gallbladder becoming infected and eventually turning gangrenous.   When any of these conditions occur, admission to the hospital for urgent surgery is indicated.

Signs you need gallbladder surgery

Since gallstones are the most common issue affecting the gallbladder, signs of these generally indicate you’ll be a candidate for surgery. As many as 80% of those with gallstones eventually require surgery, even though they may have had gallstones for years before their first attack. Some of the common signs of gallstones include:

Abdominal pain

This is far and away the most common complaint among gallstone sufferers.  The onset is usually after eating and can be described as anything from sharp, stabbing in nature to dull, cramping type discomfort.  Often people will assume that they are having gas pain or reflux, until eventually deciding to get the pain checked out. These pains may be intermittent, or it could occur after every meal. Attacks that last longer may be indicating a more serious gallbladder problem.


Gallstones may mimic other digestive issues, so you may not connect nausea and vomiting with your gallbladder, but if these coincide with abdominal pain, there’s a pretty decent chance that gallstones are the root cause.


An inflammation of the pancreas could be a sign of gallstones, which can migrate and block the duct from the pancreas as well as from the gallbladder. Gallstones are one of the two most common causes of acute pancreatitis in adults.

Weight changes

Any condition that brings on rapid weight gain and/or weight loss can lead to gallstone formation.  Two of the most common populations that experience this are bariatric surgery patients who have lost a lot of weight after their procedure and women both during and immediately after pregnancy.

When it’s time

If you require gallbladder surgery, then you will definitely want to find someone who specializes in this type of surgery.  Dr. Scott deVilleneuve of Surgical Associates of North Texas is such a surgeon. He specializes in minimally invasive surgery, including cholecystectomies.  He has completed over 2,500 laparoscopic cholecystectomies since starting his practice in McKinney over 14 years ago and can help you determine the best option for you.

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