You had surgery to remove your gallbladder. The surgeon made a 5 to 7 inch incision (cut) in your belly. The surgeon then removed your gallbladder by reaching in through the incision, separating it from its attachments, and gently lifting it out.
What to Expect at Home
Recovering from open gallbladder removal surgery takes 4 - 8 weeks. You may have some of these symptoms as you recover:
Pain in your belly. You may also have pain in 1 or both shoulders for several days after surgery. This comes from the gas still in your belly after your surgery.
Incision pain for 1 - 2 weeks. This pain should get better each day.
Sore throat from the breathing tube. Sucking on ice chips or gargling may be soothing.
Nausea, and maybe throwing up (vomiting). Your surgeon can provide you with nausea medicine, if needed.
Loose stools after eating. This may last 4 - 8 weeks.
Bruising around your wound. This will go away on its own.
Skin redness around your wound. This is normal.
A small amount of watery or dark bloody fluid from the incision. This is normal for several days after surgery.
The surgeon may have left 1 or 2 drainage tubes in your belly:
One will help to remove any fluid or blood that is left in your belly.
The second tube will drain bile while you recover. This tube will be removed by your surgeon in 2 - 4 weeks. Before removing it, you will have a special x-ray called a cholangiogram.
You will receive instructions for caring for these drains before leaving the hospital.
Plan to have someone drive you home from the hospital. Do NOT drive yourself home.
You should be able to do most of your regular activities in 4 - 8 weeks. Before that:
Do not lift anything heavier than 10 - 15 pounds until you see your doctor.
Avoid all strenuous activity. This includes heavy exercising, weightlifting, and other activities that make you breathe hard or strain.
Taking short walks and using stairs are okay.
Light housework is okay.
Do NOT push yourself too hard. Increase how much you exercise slowly.
Your doctor will prescribe pain medicines to use at home.
If you are taking pain pills 3 or 4 times a day, try taking them at the same times each day for 3 - 4 days. They may be more effective this way.
Try getting up and moving around if you are having some pain in your belly. This may ease your pain.
Press a pillow over your incision when you cough or sneeze to ease discomfort and protect your incision.
Make sure your home is safe as you are recovering.
Change the dressing over your surgical wound once a day, or sooner if it becomes dirty. Your doctor will tell you when you do not need to keep your wound covered. Keep the wound area clean by washing it with mild soap and water.
You may remove the wound dressings and take showers if sutures, staples, or glue were used to close your skin.
If tape strips (Steri-strips) were used to close your incision:
Cover the incision with plastic wrap before showering for the first week.
Do not try to wash off the Steri-strips or glue. Let them fall off on their own.
Do not soak in a bathtub or hot tub, or go swimming, until your doctor tells you it is okay.
Eat a normal diet. But you may want to avoid greasy or spicy foods for a while.
If you have hard stools:
Try to walk and be more active, but don’t overdo it.
If you can, take less of some of the pain medicines your doctor gave you. Some can cause constipation.
Try a stool softener. You can get these at any pharmacy without a prescription.
Ask your doctor or nurse whether you can take milk of magnesia or magnesium citrate. Do NOT take any laxatives without asking first.
Ask your doctor about foods that are high in fiber, or try using psyllium (Metamucil).
You will be asked to visit your doctor for a follow-up appointment in the weeks following your gallbladder removal surgery.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your doctor or nurse if:
You have fever above 101 °F.
Your surgical wound is bleeding, red, or warm to the touch.
Your surgical wound has thick, yellow or green, or milky drainage.
You have pain that is not helped with your pain medicines.
It is hard to breathe.
You have a cough that does not go away.
You cannot drink or eat.
Your skin or the white part of your eyes turns yellow.
Your stools are a gray color.
Chari RS, Shah SA. Biliary System. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery, 18th ed. St. Louis, M0: WB Saunders; 2008: chap. 54.
Parks RW, Garden OJ. Open cholecystectomy in the laparoendoscopic era. Am J Surg. Jan 2008; 195(1): 108-114.
Ann Rogers, MD, Associate Professor of Surgery; Director, Penn State Surgical Weight Loss Program, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.