Surgery of any kind is a big deal! This is especially true if the procedure is in your abdominal area and can make it difficult to maintain your regular sleeping position. Perhaps the best thing that you can do before surgery is both to prepare yourself mentally and to prepare your home for an ideal recovery process.
But what does that look like when it comes to gallbladder surgery? Read on to learn everything you need to know about gallbladder surgery and what to expect during post-operative recovery.
What Is the Gallbladder?
The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ located on the right side of your abdomen beneath your liver. The primary function of the gallbladder is to store bile that is produced by the liver. Bile is a fluid that aids digestion in the small intestine by breaking down fatty acids from food.
Bile also helps to eliminate waste products from the body by secretion into bile and elimination through feces. Despite the important role of the gallbladder in our digestive system, it’s not completely necessary to digest and eliminate food, and you can live without one.
When Is Gallbladder Surgery Necessary?
Even though the gallbladder is an organ in our bodies, it doesn’t always work as it should and can create many problems! In these cases, the best course of action is to have the gallbladder surgically removed from the body through a surgery called a cholecystectomy. Don’t worry— you can definitely continue to live a healthy life without a gallbladder.
In fact, most healthy adults will see no long-term effects of living without a gallbladder aside from occasional diarrhea, but this is uncommon and tends to improve over time. That being said, fully removing the gallbladder is the last resort if you are consistently dealing with the following symptoms:
- Digestive symptoms such as bloating, nausea, and vomiting— especially after eating
- Sharp pain in the right upper portion of your abdomen that tends to radiate to the middle of your abdomen, right shoulder, or back
- Frequent fevers
- Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin
If you have these symptoms over an extended period of time, you may be dealing with gallstones. Gallstones are hard deposits of digestive fluid that form either in the gallbladder or in the bile duct. Small gallstones might not cause you a lot of problems, but large ones that are big enough to block your bile duct can cause a lot of problems and can even result in a painful condition called cholecystitis.
If ignored and allowed to build up over time, this blockage can lead to an infection or could even cause your gallbladder to tear or burst! That’s why it’s extremely important to speak with your doctor about any consistent problems that you’re having.
If your doctor suspects gallstones, they may perform an imaging test called an ultrasound to examine the inside of your body. Thankfully, this test is all done externally and is usually quick and painless! Based on your ultrasound results, your doctor may order additional tests to get a better idea of what’s going on. You may have to have a CT scan done or a HIDA scan that uses dye to indicate how well your gallbladder and bile duct are working.
Based on the results of all your testing, your doctor will decide if you will require a cholecystectomy. If you have mild issues, surgery may not be necessary. Instead, you may be able to make some lifestyle changes that can help reduce the recurrence of gallstones by changing your diet to a low-fat diet and losing weight if you are overweight.
However, if these changes don’t seem to do the trick, your doctor will probably recommend removing the entire problematic organ through surgery.
What Does Gallbladder Surgery Entail?
We realize that surgery is a big deal and can be really scary! But you should be reassured by the fact that this is a relatively simple procedure that is done all the time with minimal risk of complications.
So what exactly does a gallbladder surgery entail? Most of the time, your doctor will opt to do a laparoscopic gallbladder removal, which means that instead of making one large incision, your doctor will make a few small incisions through which they can insert surgical tools to successfully complete the surgery. Obviously, a less invasive approach is ideal as it makes recovery easier and decreases the risk of postoperative complications.
No matter which surgery type you go with, you won’t be awake, and you will most likely be put under general anesthesia. That way, you won’t feel the pain, and you will wake up once the procedure is done and over with. While you’re under, your surgeon will clean the incision site with an antiseptic before making the necessary incision(s) on the upper right side of your abdomen.
If the surgery is being done laparoscopically, your surgeon will use one of the incision sites to insert a tiny camera so they can see what they’re doing. Your gallbladder is then removed from your abdomen, and imaging tests are usually done to check your bile duct for obstructions. Once everything is all clear, you will be stitched up and taken to recovery, where you will wake up just one to two hours later!
What Is the Recovery Process?
Even though a cholecystectomy is considered a routine surgery (especially if it’s laparoscopic), that doesn’t mean that it’s not a serious procedure that will require care and attention in order to recover properly. Surgery in and of itself is quite traumatic for the body. That being said, our bodies are quite resilient and can bounce back after these types of procedures if we treat them right.
Right after your surgery, you will likely be quite tired and might be in a bit of pain. Depending on what type of surgery you had and how it went, you may be able to leave the hospital and go home on the same day after your procedure! This is ideal for many patients who prefer to sleep in the comfort of their own bed.
However, some patients may require additional monitoring and assistance that only a hospital can provide. In any case, make sure to take all medications such as pain relievers and stool softeners as prescribed. Also, make sure to follow your doctor’s dietary recommendations post-op by eating a high-fiber diet and drinking enough fluids to hydrate your body and help it heal.
Finally, you should definitely take it easy for about a week or so if you have a laparoscopic procedure and avoid disturbing your incision areas or lifting heavy objects that may disturb your incision sites. However, you should still get up and walk around every so often in order to prevent blood clots caused by sitting or lying down for extended periods of time.
How to Sleep After Gallbladder Surgery?
Sleep is essential to the recovery process, but it can be really challenging to get comfortable. This is especially true if you’re a stomach or side sleeper, and you can’t necessarily sleep in your regular position due to the location of your incisions. Getting enough sleep can also be challenging if you’re in pain, so make sure to follow your doctor’s instructions when it comes to taking pain-relieving medications to help reduce your pain levels so that you can fall asleep.
One thing that you can use to help you sleep after gallbladder surgery is a memory foam pillow. Generally speaking, it’s recommended that you try to sleep on your back with your head elevated above the rest of your body. For example, we make a 100% memory foam half-moon bolster pillow with an orthopedic design that can easily support your head and keep you propped up in a comfortable position. This works well if you’re a stomach sleeper who now has to sleep on your back.
On the other hand, if you’re a side sleeper, you can still potentially sleep in your favorite position provided that you have the right support. Just make sure to sleep on your left side rather than your right where the incisions are to avoid putting too much pressure on this sensitive area. In order to increase the comfort factor, you could use a memory foam knee pillow to help support and straighten your legs, hips, back, and abdominal area while you sleep.
Finally, give yourself an ideal sleeping environment by using things like essential oil diffusers, white noise machines, and blackout curtains so that you can get enough sleep and help get your body onto a healing track.
Even though gallbladder surgery isn’t necessarily a particularly invasive procedure, it can still make it difficult for you to sleep afterward. Thankfully, by maintaining the right routine, using the right positions, and buying the right products, you will be able to sleep like a baby and get back to living your everyday life in no time!