Cholecystectomy: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

After your surgery, it is normal to feel weak and tired for several days after you return home. Your belly may be swollen. If you had laparoscopic surgery, you may also have pain in your shoulder for about 24 hours.

You may have gas or need to burp a lot at first, and 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. Gradually increase the amount you walk. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.
  • 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.
  • You may shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery, if your doctor okays it. Pat the cut (incision) dry. Do not take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.
  • You may drive when you are no longer taking pain medicine and can quickly move your foot from the gas pedal to the brake. You must also be able to sit comfortably for a long period of time, even if you do not plan to go far. You might get caught in traffic.
  • 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

  • Eat smaller meals more often instead of fewer larger meals. You can eat a normal diet, but avoid eating fatty foods for about 1 month. Fatty foods include hamburger, whole milk, cheese, and many snack foods. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells you not to).
  • If you have diarrhea, try avoiding spicy foods, dairy products, fatty foods, and alcohol. You can also watch to see if specific foods cause it, and stop eating them. If the diarrhea continues for more than 2 weeks, talk to your doctor.
  • 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. He or she will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if and when to start taking those medicines again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, take an over-the-counter medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • 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 incision, or cut, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • After 24 to 48 hours, wash the area daily with warm, soapy water, and pat it dry.
  • 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 weeps 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 call line 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 have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.

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

  • You are sick to your stomach and cannot drink fluids.
  • You have pain that does not get better when you take your pain medicine.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, or groin.
    • A fever.
  • Your urine turns dark brown or your stool is light-coloured or clay-coloured.
  • Your skin or the whites of your eyes turn yellow.
  • Bright red blood has soaked through a large bandage over your incision.
  • You have signs of a blood clot, such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in your leg or groin.
  • You have trouble passing urine or stool, especially if you have mild pain or swelling in your lower belly.

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

  • You had a laparoscopic surgery and your shoulder pain lasts more than 24 hours.
  • You do not have a bowel movement after taking a laxative.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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Current as of: August 9, 2016