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Returning to Normal

Returning to normal may take a few days or weeks, depending on your body’s healing power. People can lead a normal, healthy life without the gallbladder.


There is usually minimal pain associated with this operation. The abdomen will be sore as well as the small incision sites, and some patients have shoulder pain for the first day or two. The shoulder pain is caused by gas left in your abdomen during the operation. It will disappear on its own. When you are discharged home you will be given a pain medication to take if necessary. The first few days you may want to take the pain medication so that you will be more comfortable. As you become more active the amount of pain medication needed should decrease quickly. Some patients find that after the initial recovery period is over that medications such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen work well. As with any type of surgery, it is reasonable to expect some amount of pain. This varies with individual patients and depends on your body’s response to pain medication.


Most patients are concerned about what they can eat after the cholecystectomy. You are permitted to eat what you would like. Most patients find that a bland diet of such foods as: toast, rice, bananas, soups, pasta etc. are the easiest to digest initially. After the initial recovery period most patients can tolerate a variety of foods without difficulty. It is not uncommon for it to take a few days for your normal appetite to return following surgery.

Wound Care

There will be four small wounds on your abdomen after the operation, three under your right ribs and one at the belly button. These wounds are usually closed with dissolvable stitches. These areas need to be kept clean. You may shower and bathe when the bandages are removed. You should look at the wounds every day and call the GI Surgery Nurse at (919) 966-8436 if there is redness or any bleeding from these areas. Sometimes you will notice bruising around the wounds, this is normal.

Driving a Car

As long as you are not taking pain medicine stronger than Tylenol or Ibuprofen and when you feel as though your reaction time is normal, you may begin driving. Do not drive if you are taking any kind of pain medicine or medicine that impairs your judgment. Most patients wait until they no longer feel their abdomen is sore.


Most patients feel strong enough to return to work in a 1 to 2 weeks following the operation. Some patients may return sooner if they do desk work. If you do work that requires you to lift or bend then you may need to be placed on restricted work duty until you have your post-operative appointment. If you need a letter or work excuse to be sent to your employer, please let your surgeon or the GI Surgery nurse know.

Bowel Habits

Normal bowel habits may be altered by several factors regarding surgery. Constipation is common. Anesthesia, decreased activity, and narcotic pain medications are factors that may cause constipation. You should be aware to increase fiber in your diet as soon as possible and to increases your fluid intake. If necessary you may take a mild laxative. Infrequently patients develop loose stools or diarrhea after a cholecystectomy. This may go away within days or may last for several weeks. This is easily treated with medication.

Activity and Exercise

Patients feel like doing activities within a few days of having their operation. You should not lift anything heavier than 8 to 10 pounds (a gallon of milk) for 2 weeks. After this period of time you can begin lifting heavier objects being aware that if your abdomen hurts you should not be lifting. Walk as much as is comfortable for you, moderate exercise helps improve circulation. You may shower the day after the operation. You may resume sexual relations when it feels comfortable for you.

Potential Problems

As with any operation there is a possibility of complications. Included in these complications are bile leaks and/or bile duct injuries. Although these can be serious complications, they occur very rarely. Your surgeon will discuss these with you.

Some potential short-term complications that may arise shortly after the operation are:

Loose bowel movements – may occur because bile is not being concentrated in the gallbladder, it is spilled directly into the small intestine from the liver. It often takes a few days to a few weeks for your body to adjust. If the symptoms become severe, you should notify the surgeon or the GI Surgery nurse.

  • Infection – infection can occur with any operation. Every step is taken to ensure that this does not take place.
  • Wound infection – these infections are usually superficial or on the surface, and can be treated by draining the infected site.
  • A long term complication that may arise months or years after your operation is a:   Hernia – A hernia is a protrusion of tissue through a weak spot in your incision. Hernias are not common after laparoscopic surgery, but do occur. An operation is necessary to repair the hernia.


Most patients feel much better following this operation. The gallbladder is an important organ, but not essential for life. The surgeons here at UNC Hospitals have been performing this procedure since its inception. They have experience in all aspects of care regarding patients with gallstones. We encourage you to speak to patients who have had this operation. We are glad to give you the names of previous patients who are willing to talk to potential patients.

This information is being provided to help patients understand laparoscopic cholecystectomy. You should talk with your physician about any medical advice dealing with your medical diagnosis.