- Living Without a Gallbladder
- Do I need to change my diet after gallbladder surgery?
- Galled by the Gallbladder?
- Digestive Problems After Gallbladder Surgery
- Life after Gallbladder Removal
- By the way, doctor: Do I need to take bile salts after gallbladder surgery?
Living Without a Gallbladder
However, when you remove the gallbladder, you remove the reservoir, Brugge says. So, even though you will have the same amount of bile in your body, you will not have as much bile in your intestine after your gallbladder is gone.
“The bile is constantly being delivered into your intestine instead of being stored,” Brugge explains. In theory, this means that you will not digest food as well.
“But most animal species in the world don’t have gallbladders,” Brugge says. And your gallbladder is an organ you can live without.
Digestion Changes After Gallbladder Removal
In the first few weeks after your surgery, your doctor probably will recommend that you eat a mostly low-fat diet while your body adjusts to living without a gallbladder. After that, “ninety percent of people go back to eating the way they did before,” says Brugge.
Brugge says that digestive symptoms are relatively uncommon after gallbladder removal. But some people will notice a change in their digestion.
“The most common thing is people have more frequent bowel movements,” Brugge says.
Laura Consolo of Melrose, Mass., had her gallbladder removed 12 years ago and has experienced some digestive changes.
“I probably noticed the change about two months after the surgery,” says Consolo, now in her early forties. “If I ate a lot of fatty foods, I would have a really bad stomachache and need to run to the bathroom,” she continues. “It was pretty much a constant thing for a while.”
Managing Digestive Problems After Gallbladder Removal
Brugge notes that gallbladder removal-related digestive symptoms usually go away over time, but that some people need to take medications or make lifestyle changes to help manage their symptoms. “There are medications take that will bind the bile,” says Brugge.
Some of the lifestyle changes that can help ease digestive symptoms when you’re living without a gallbladder are:
- Adopt a low-fat diet
- Avoid eating fatty foods, such as fried foods
- Eat small, frequent meals
- Avoid eating a very large dinner after fasting all day
Consolo says that she took medications to manage her symptoms, but eventually wanted to wean herself off these drugs. She is now able to manage her symptoms with a high-fiber, low-fat diet.
Surgeons remove more than 600,000 gallbladders each year to help eliminate pain associated with it. Often times, surgery is done because of gallstones, which are hard deposits of digestive fluid in the gallbladder. As people age, gallstones become more common.
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If you have your gallbladder removed, you’ll likely experience changes in your digestion and will need to carefully watch your diet.
The gallbladder, which is a pear-shaped organ on your right side beneath your liver, isn’t necessary. However, it does help you digest fatty foods. It also stores, concentrates and secretes the bile your liver makes.
After surgery, your liver will still make enough bile, but you might have difficulty processing fatty foods – at least for a while. More than half of patients who have their gallbladder removed have trouble digesting fat.
Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD, shares five tips to avoid discomfort after gallbladder removal:
1. Add foods back into your diet gradually
For the first few days after surgery, stick with clear liquids, broths and gelatin. After that, gradually add more solid foods back into your diet.
2. Avoid fried food and stick with smaller portions
Avoid fried foods, high-fat foods, foods with strong odors and gas-causing foods. You should also stick to small, frequent meals.
3. Skip high-fat foods to help avoid discomfort
Eating the wrong food after gallbladder surgery can induce pain, bloating and diarrhea. To side-step this gastrointestinal discomfort, avoid eating high-fat or spicy foods, including:
- French fries and potato chips.
- High-fat meats, such as bologna, sausage and ground beef.
- High-fat dairy, such as cheese, ice cream and whole milk.
- Lard and butter.
- Creamy soups and sauces.
- Meat gravies.
- Oils, such as coconut and palm oil.
- Chicken or turkey skin.
- Spicy foods.
Typically, fat calories should total no more than 30% of your daily intake. That means if you eat about 1,800 calories each day, you should consume no more than 60 grams of fat.
Be sure to read food labels carefully. Look for foods that offer no more than 3 grams of fat per serving.
4. Take it slowly as you reintroduce high-fiber foods
Consider adding these gas-producing foods back into your diet slowly:
- Whole-grain bread.
- Brussels sprouts.
Slowly add small amounts of foods back into your diet. Re-introducing things too quickly can lead to diarrhea, cramping and bloating.
5. Keep a food journal
It’s a good idea to keep a food journal after surgery. This will help you keep track of what you eat and what the impact was. Doing so will help you know what you can and cannot eat comfortably.
Most people can return to a regular diet within a month after surgery. However, talk to your doctor if you experience these symptoms:
- Persistent, worsening or severe abdominal pain.
- Severe nausea or vomiting.
- No bowel movements for more than three days post-surgery.
- Inability to pass gas more than three days post-surgery.
- Diarrhea that lasts more than three days post-surgery.
After surgery, doing these things should help you feel more comfortable. As time goes on, take note of your tolerance for high-fiber foods and fats, especially healthy fats.
Do I need to change my diet after gallbladder surgery?
Most people don’t need to follow a special diet after having surgery to remove their gallbladder, as the gallbladder isn’t essential for digestion.
You can usually start eating normally a few hours after your operation, although you’ll probably prefer to eat small meals to start with.
You may have been advised to follow a low-fat diet for several weeks before surgery, but this doesn’t need to be continued afterwards.
Instead, you should aim to have a generally healthy, balanced diet, including some fats.
If you experience side effects from surgery, including indigestion, bloating, flatulence or diarrhoea, it may help to make some small adjustments to your diet.
- avoid drinks containing caffeine, such as coffee and tea
- avoid foods that make the problems worse, such as spicy or fatty foods
- gradually increase your intake of fibre – good sources of fibre include fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrain rice, wholewheat pasta and bread, seeds, nuts and oats
Your GP can also recommend medication if you have diarrhoea.
Side effects of gallbladder surgery usually only last a few weeks, although diarrhoea can be a more persistent problem for a small number of people.
If you have had other organs removed as well as your gallbladder, such as your pancreas, you may have problems digesting food.
You’ll be advised about any changes you need to make to your diet after surgery in these cases.
Galled by the Gallbladder?
Your Tiny, Hard-Working Digestive Organ
Most of us give little thought to the gallbladder, a pear-sized organ that sits just under the liver and next to the pancreas. The gallbladder may not seem to do all that much. But if this small organ malfunctions, it can cause serious problems. Gallbladder disorders rank among the most common and costly of all digestive system diseases. By some estimates, up to 20 million Americans may have gallstones, the most common type of gallbladder disorder.
The gallbladder stores bile, a thick liquid that’s produced by the liver to help us digest fat. When we eat, the gallbladder’s thin, muscular lining squeezes bile into the small intestine through the main bile duct. The more fat we eat, the more bile the gallbladder injects into the digestive tract.
Bile has a delicate chemical balance. It’s full of soluble cholesterol produced by the liver. This is a different type of cholesterol than the kind related to cardiovascular disease. If the chemical balance of bile gets slightly off, the cholesterol can crystalize and stick to the wall of the gallbladder. Over time, these crystals can combine and form gallstones.
Gallstones can range from the size of a grain of sand to that of a golf ball. When the gallbladder injects bile into the small intestine, the main bile duct can become blocked by these crystalline stones. That may cause pressure, pain, and nausea, especially after meals. Gallstones can cause sudden pain in the upper right abdomen, called a gallbladder attack (or biliary colic). In most cases, though, people with gallstones don’t realize they have them.
The causes of gallstones are unclear, but you’re more likely to have gallstone problems if you have too much body fat, especially around your waist, or if you’re losing weight very quickly. Women, people over age 40, people with a family history of gallstones, American Indians, and Mexican Americans are also at increased risk for gallstones.
“For the average person with an average case, the simplest way to diagnose a gallstone is by an ultrasound,” says Dr. Dana Andersen, an NIH expert in digestive diseases.
If left untreated, a blocked main bile duct and gallbladder can become infected and lead to a life-threatening situation. Gallbladder removal, called a cholecystectomy, is the most common way to treat gallstones. The gallbladder isn’t an essential organ, which means you can live normally without it.
Gallbladder removal can be done with a laparoscope, a thin, lighted tube that shows what’s inside your abdomen. The surgeon makes small cuts in your abdomen to insert the surgical tools and take out the gallbladder. The surgery is done while you are under general anesthesia, asleep and pain-free. Most people go home on the same day or the next.
Researchers have long investigated medications that can prevent gallstones from forming, but these therapies are currently used only in special situations.
It’s uncommon for the gallbladder to cause problems other than gallstones. Gallbladder cancer is often difficult to treat, as it’s usually diagnosed at an advanced stage. But such cancers are relatively rare.
While the gallbladder may not be the star of the digestive system, it still plays an important role. Treat it well by maintaining a healthy diet and getting regular exercise, and the little bag of bile should do its job. Don’t ignore pain or symptoms, and see your doctor if you’re in discomfort, especially after eating.
Digestive Problems After Gallbladder Surgery
However, your gallbladder is one organ you can live without, since an adequate amount of bile can flow out of your liver and through your bile ducts to the intestine without having to enter the gallbladder first. So most people do not have any problems eating or digesting food after having gallbladder removal surgery. But sometimes problems occur, and some gallbladder removal side effects can affect the way you eat and digest foods.
Gallbladder Removal Side Effects: Digestive Complications
While it is not the norm to experience digestive problems after gallbladder surgery, they can include:
- Difficulty digesting fatty foods. Some people have a slightly more difficult time digesting fatty foods for the first month after surgery. Eating a low-fat diet may help.
- Temporary diarrhea. Because your gallbladder is no longer there to regulate the flow of bile, it will flow more constantly, but in smaller amounts, into your small intestine. This can lead to diarrhea for the first few days after surgery in many people. This side effect is most often temporary, and no treatment is needed. But if you have diarrhea that lasts for more than three days, call your doctor.
- Chronic diarrhea. Some people who did not previously have more than one bowel movement per day will find themselves having more frequent bowel movements after gallbladder removal. These can sometimes be loose and watery, and be accompanied by a sense of urgency. Recent studies have found that this can occur in up to 17 percent of people after gallbladder removal. Men younger than age 50, especially if they are obese, have the highest likelihood of long-term diarrhea after gallbladder surgery, but a significant number of people without those risk factors may also have diarrhea for months to years after surgery. Eating a low-fat diet may help lessen symptoms, and treatments with medications which bind the excess bile acids — which are thought to be the cause of this bothersome symptom — often alleviate the problem.
- Temporary constipation. Some people become constipated from the pain medications they take after gallbladder surgery. Eating a diet that is rich in fiber — beans, bran, whole grains, fruit, and vegetables — can help prevent and perhaps relieve constipation. Your surgeon may prescribe a stool softener to help you.
- Retained stone in a bile duct. In some cases, a gallstone will remain in your common bile duct after gallbladder surgery. This can block the flow of bile into your small intestine and result in pain, fever, nausea, vomiting, bloating, and jaundice soon after surgery. You may need an additional procedure to remove gallstones that are retained in your common bile duct.
- Intestinal injury. Although it is rare, the instruments used during your gallbladder surgery could damage your intestines. Your doctor will take measures to minimize the risk of this complication during the surgery. If it occurs, you might experience abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and fever. Any post-surgical symptoms like this require immediate medical attention.
It is important to call your doctor immediately if you are having digestive problems after gallbladder surgery, as they may be signs of serious complications. Even if he determines your symptoms do not require medical care, your doctor may be able to make suggestions to help you manage them.
Life after Gallbladder Removal
The gallbladder plays a vital role in the digestive process, and while the removal of the organ may provide relief from gallstones or other inflammatory related issues, its absence can cause discomfort when it comes to digesting and absorbing fats properly.
The gallbladder stores bile which is produced by the liver, and bile is essential for the digestion of fats in the diet. Once the gallbladder is removed the process of breaking down fat becomes more taxing on the digestive system. Think of it this way, if you place oil in water it will remain floating on the surface and does not mix in. However, when you add a drop of dish soap it breaks the oil into smaller droplets, thus allowing the oil and water to mix together (1). This is how bile works in the body, it acts like the “soap” that breaks down fats into smaller molecules to be absorbed.
If you’ve had your gallbladder removed, it’s quite possible eating foods that contain fat can result in digestive discomfort, stomach cramping, and even fatty stools due to improper absorption of fat. This is not to say you can no longer consume fats, but you may want to ease your way into reintroducing fats after surgery.
Supplements can also provide much needed support in breaking down fats after gallbladder removal. A few of my favorites are:
Enzymedica Lypo Gold: This product contains enzymes for protein and carbohydrates but has a specific focus on fats, and in studies has been shown to break down up to 22 grams of fat within 30 minutes. One capsule to be taken with each meal for optimal support. Plant based, vegan, and Kosher.
Vital Choice Superzymes: A combination formula of pancreatic enzymes for breaking down protein (protease), carbohydrates (amylase), and fats (lipases). Also contains:
- Bile acid- helps to break down fats so that fat digesting enzymes (lipases) can further break down foods
- Betaine HCL- helps support the digestive process in the break-down of protein and fats, helps relieve digestive discomfort.
- Bromelain- derived from pineapple, can aid in the break- down of protein
- Papain- derived from papaya, supports protein digestion
- It is important to note that if someone has stomach ulcers they should not use Betaine HCL, caution is advised if you are taking antacids or medications for acid reflux.
In addition to supplements, the following dietary changes can make digestion after gallbladder removal far easier and more comfortable (2)(3):
- Fiber: high fiber foods such as flax, chia, beans, fruits, and vegetables
- Beets, Artichokes, Dandelion Greens: these can help to support the liver and improve bile production for the break- down of fats
- Unrefined Healthy Fats: these can come from sources such as nuts and seeds, olive oil, or coconut oil to name a few. Healthy fats should be consumed in small- amounts throughout the day
- Fruits and Vegetables: an increase in plant- based foods in the diet can likely decrease gallbladder distress
- Lean Protein: include good- quality pasture raised, wild caught, or grass- fed sources to decrease possible digestive upset associated with more fatty meats
This information is not intended as personal medical advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
By the way, doctor: Do I need to take bile salts after gallbladder surgery?
Updated: April 11, 2019Published: February, 2010
Q. I have read that people who have had their gallbladders removed should take bile salts. My gallbladder was removed many years ago, and no doctor has said I should take bile salts. Should I?
A. Bile salts are produced in the liver, secreted into the bile ducts and gallbladder, and sent from there to the small intestine by way of the common bile duct. In the intestine, bile salts make it easier for your body to absorb and digest the fats and fat-soluble vitamins that you’ve eaten. Remember, not all fats are bad: there are “good” fats, and they are crucial to our health.
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