Complications - Gallbladder removal

Removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) is considered a relatively safe procedure, but like all operations there's a small risk of complications.

Infection

Some people develop a wound or internal infection after a gallbladder removal.

Signs of a possible infection include increasing pain, swelling or redness, and pus leaking from a wound.

See your GP if you develop these symptoms, as you may need a short course of antibiotics.

Bleeding

Bleeding can occur after your operation, although this is rare. If it does occur, you may require a further operation to stop it.

Bile leakage

When the gallbladder is removed, special clips are used to seal the tube that connects the gallbladder to the main bile duct.

But bile fluid can occasionally leak out into the tummy (abdomen) after the gallbladder is removed.

Symptoms of a bile leak include tummy pain, feeling sick, a fever and a swollen tummy.

Sometimes this fluid can be drained off. Occasionally, an operation is required to drain the bile and wash out the inside of your tummy.

Bile leakage occurs in around 1% of cases.

Injury to the bile duct

The bile duct can be damaged during a gallbladder removal.

If this happens during surgery, it may be possible to repair it straight away.

In some cases, further surgery is needed after your original operation.

Injury to the intestine, bowel and blood vessels

The surgical instruments used to remove the gallbladder can also injure surrounding structures, such as the intestine, bowel and blood vessels.

This type of injury is rare and can usually be repaired at the time of the operation.

Sometimes injuries are noticed afterwards and a further operation is needed.

Deep vein thrombosis

Some people are at a higher risk of blood clots developing after surgery.

This is known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and usually occurs in a leg vein.

This can be serious because the clot can travel around the body and could block the flow of blood into the lungs (pulmonary embolism).

You may be given special compression stockings to wear after the operation to prevent this happening.

Risks from general anaesthetic

There are several serious complications associated with having a general anaesthetic, but these are very rare.

Complications include allergic reaction and death. Being fit and healthy before your operation reduces the risk of any complications occurring.

Post-cholecystectomy syndrome

Some people experience symptoms similar to those caused by gallstones after surgery, including:

This is known as post-cholecystectomy syndrome (PCS). It's thought to be caused by bile leaking into areas such as the stomach, or by gallstones being left in the bile ducts.

In most cases symptoms are mild and short-lived, but they can persist for many months.

If you have persistent symptoms, you should contact your GP for advice.

You may benefit from a procedure to remove any remaining gallstones, or medication to relieve your symptoms.

Page last reviewed: 03/12/2018
Next review due: 03/12/2021