This page will give you information about an open cholecystectomy. If you have any questions, you should ask your GP or other relevant health professional.
What are gallstones?
Gallstones are ‘stones’ that form in your gallbladder. They are common and can run in families. The risk of developing gallstones increases as you get older and if you eat a diet rich in fat.
For some people gallstones can cause severe symptoms, with repeated attacks of abdominal pain being the most common.
What are the benefits of surgery?
You should be free of pain and able to eat a normal diet. Surgery should also prevent the serious complications that gallstones can cause.
Are there any alternatives to surgery?
Surgery is recommended as it is the only dependable way to cure the condition.
It is possible to dissolve the stones or even shatter them into small pieces but these techniques involve unpleasant drugs that have side effects and a high failure rate.
Antibiotics can be used to treat any infection of your gallbladder. Eating a diet low in fat may help to prevent attacks of pain.
What does the operation involve?
The operation is performed under a general anaesthetic and usually takes about an hour.
Your surgeon will make a cut on your upper abdomen, either a vertical cut on your midline or, more commonly, a cut just under your right ribcage.
Your surgeon will separate your gallbladder from your liver, and remove it.
What complications can happen?
Some of these can be serious and can even cause death.
General complications of any operation
- infection of the surgical site (wound)
- unsightly scarring of your skin
- developing a hernia in the scar
- blood clot in your leg
- blood clot in your lung
Specific complications of this operation
- leaking of bile or stones
- retained stones in your common bile duct
- continued pain
- needing to go to the toilet more often
- inflammation of the lining of your abdomen
- chest infection
- bile duct injury
- allergic reaction to the equipment, materials, medication or dye
- bowel injury
- continued bowel paralysis (ileus), where your bowel stops working for more than a few days
- pancreatitis, if a stone moves into your common bile duct
- serious damage to your liver or its associated blood vessels
- tissues can join together in an abnormal way
How soon will I recover?
You should be able to go home after 2 to 4 days.
You should be able to return to work after about 6 weeks, depending on how much surgery you need and your type of work.
Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.
You should make a full recovery and be able to return to normal activities and eat a normal diet.
Gallstones are a common problem. An operation to remove your gallbladder should result in you being free of pain and able to eat a normal diet.
The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.
For more on how this information was prepared, click here.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: September 2019