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Gallbladder Removal Surgery: What to Expect at Home

Your Recovery

After your surgery, you will likely feel weak and tired for several days after you return home. Your belly may be swollen. If you had laparoscopic surgery, it's normal to also have some shoulder pain. This is caused by the air that your doctor put in your belly to help see your organs better.

You may have gas or need to burp a lot at first. A few people get diarrhea. The diarrhea usually goes away in 2 to 4 weeks, but it may last longer.

How quickly you recover depends on whether you had a laparoscopic or open surgery.

  • For a laparoscopic surgery, most people can go back to work or their normal routine in 1 to 2 weeks. But it may take longer, depending on the type of work you do.
  • For an open surgery, it will probably take 4 to 6 weeks before you get back to your normal routine.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. However, each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Activity

  • Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
  • Try to walk each day. Start out by walking a little more than you did the day before. Walking helps prevent blood clots in your legs and pneumonia.
  • For about 2 to 4 weeks, avoid lifting anything that would make you strain. This may include a child, heavy grocery bags and milk containers, a heavy briefcase or backpack, cat litter or dog food bags, or a vacuum cleaner.
  • Avoid strenuous activities, such as biking, jogging, weightlifting, and aerobic exercise, until your doctor says it is okay.
  • Ask your doctor when you can drive again.
  • For a laparoscopic surgery, most people can go back to work or their normal routine in 1 to 2 weeks, but it may take longer. For an open surgery, it will probably take 4 to 6 weeks before you get back to your normal routine.
  • Your doctor will tell you when you can have sex again.

Diet

  • When you feel like eating, start with small amounts of food. You may want to avoid fatty foods like fried foods or cheese for a while. They can cause symptoms, such as diarrhea or bloating.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells you not to).
  • You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to take a fibre supplement every day. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking a mild laxative.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. You will also be given instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you take aspirin or some other blood thinner, ask your doctor if and when to start taking it again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
    • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines contain acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much Tylenol can be harmful.
  • If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
    • Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor tells you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.

Incision care

  • If you have strips of tape on the cut (incision) the doctor made, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • You may shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery, if your doctor okays it. Pat the incision dry. Do not take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it's okay.
  • You may have staples to hold the cut together. Keep them dry until your doctor takes them out. This is usually in 7 to 10 days.
  • Keep the area clean and dry. You may cover it with a gauze bandage if it oozes fluid or rubs against clothing. Change the bandage every day.

Ice

  • To reduce swelling and pain, put ice or a cold pack on your belly for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Do this every 1 to 2 hours. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You are short of breath..

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are sick to your stomach or cannot drink fluids.
  • You have pain that does not get better when you take your pain medicine.
  • You cannot pass stools or gas.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • A fever.
  • Bright red blood has soaked through the bandage over your incision.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • You have signs of a blood clot in your leg (called a deep vein thrombosis), such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in your leg or groin.

Watch closely for any changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.