How long it takes to recover from gallbladder removal surgery (cholecystectomy) depends on whether you had a laparoscopic (keyhole) or open procedure.
Most people who have keyhole surgery are able to leave hospital on the same day as the operation. It will usually take around two weeks to return to your normal activities.
After open surgery, you'll usually have to stay in hospital for three to five days and your recovery time will be longer. It can take around six to eight weeks to return to your normal activities.
In either case, you'll need to arrange for someone to take you home from hospital. Someone should also stay with you for at least 24 hours if you go home the same day as your operation, as you may still be feeling the effects of the anaesthetic.
Possible side effects of surgery
You can live perfectly normally without a gallbladder, so there aren't usually any long-term effects from gallbladder removal surgery.
However, it's common to experience some temporary side effects while you recover, including:
- swollen, bruised and painful wounds – this should start to improve within a few days; regular painkillers such as paracetamol may help reduce the discomfort
- feeling sick – you may feel sick as a result of the anaesthetic or painkillers you've been given, but this should pass quickly
- pain in your tummy and shoulders – this is a result of the gas used to inflate your tummy and should pass after a couple of days; painkillers can be taken to relieve the discomfort
- bloating, flatulence and diarrhoea – this can last a few weeks; eating high-fibre food such as fruit, vegetables, brown rice and wholemeal bread can help to firm up your stools, and your GP may also be able to prescribe medication to help
- fatigue, mood swings and irritability – these feelings should improve as you recover
These side effects are completely normal and not usually a cause for concern. You only need to contact your GP, the hospital or NHS 111 for advice if they're particularly severe or persistent.
Looking after your wounds
In many cases, dissolvable stitches will be used to close your wounds. These should start to disappear by themselves within a week or two.
If non-dissolvable stitches were used, you'll usually need to have them removed by a nurse at your GP surgery after 7-10 days. You'll be given an appointment for this before you leave hospital.
You'll be told about how to look after your wound and stitches, including how long any dressings need to stay on, when they should be replaced and when you can start having showers or baths. Read more about caring for your stitches.
There will be scars where the cuts were made in your tummy. These will probably be red and obvious at first, but should fade over time.
Getting back to normal
Your surgeon can give you specific advice about when you can return to your normal activities. Generally speaking, after keyhole surgery you can:
- eat a normal diet straight away – you can return to a normal diet even if you were advised to avoid certain foods before your operation, although you should try to have a generally healthy and balanced diet (read more about diet after gallbladder surgery)
- do gentle exercises, such as walking – but be careful not to push yourself too hard too soon and ask your surgeon or GP for advice about returning to more strenuous exercise
- drive again after a week or so – but first make sure you can wear a seatbelt and practice an emergency stop without feeling any discomfort
- have sex as soon as you feel up to it – but try not to place weight on your wounds until they've healed
- return to work after 10-14 days, depending on what your job involves
It can take a bit longer to return to these activities after open gallbladder removal surgery. For example, you may not be able to drive or return to work for around four to eight weeks.
When to get medical advice
Contact your GP, the hospital or NHS 111 for advice if you experience:
- a return of your original symptoms
- severe, excessive or increasing pain
- a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
- persistently feeling sick and/or vomiting
- increasing swelling, redness or discharge from a wound
- yellowing of the skin and whites of your eyes (jaundice)
- dark urine and pale stools
These problems could be a sign of a complication of gallbladder removal surgery.