The gallbladder is a small organ located near the stomach that serves as a reservoir for bile, a fluid used in the digestion of food. During digestion, a duct in the gallbladder releases bile as needed to break down food. Sometimes, the gallbladder can become inflamed or infected, or the duct can become blocked due to the presence of a tiny gallstone, a hard concretion that forms inside the gallbladder. When the gallbladder malfunctions, surgery is often required to remove the organ. Gallbladder surgery is one of the most common surgical procedures performed in the U.S.
Gallbladder disease is associated with symptoms like belly pain, nausea, and vomiting. Often, these symptoms are worse following eating as the gallbladder becomes active during digestion. Pain may extend into the back, usually between the shoulder blades or into the right shoulder area. When bile backs up, the skin and eyes may begin to appear yellow, a condition called jaundice. Gallbladder disease is more common over the age of 40 and among women and those who are overweight.
Gallbladder surgery (also called cholecystectomy) often can be performed laparoscopically, using several small incisions (typically three) located in the belly to access and remove the organ. This minimally-invasive approach relies on the use of a special instrument called a laparoscope that has a tiny camera mounted on one end. The laparoscope is inserted through one incision and sends real-time video to a monitor so the doctor can see the surgical site without using large incisions. Special surgical instruments are used to access the organ through additional small incisions. Laparoscopic gallbladder surgery is associated with a faster recovery and fewer risks for complications compared to traditional gallbladder surgery using larger incisions. Sometimes, however, gallbladder surgery must be performed using a larger incision, an approach commonly used in patients who have had prior upper abdominal surgery, those with severe gallbladder disease and in some other cases. Prior to surgery, a thorough evaluation will be performed to determine which approach is more appropriate.