Please note, I am not asking for medical advice. A family doctor and a surgeon have both told me that I can have it out or not, it’s up to me.
I have gallstones. They are causing some very slight intermittent pain in my upper right abdomen and shoulder blade. I wouldn’t have gone to the doc about that - I found out about them because I had the trots for about four weeks running, which prompted them to do an ultrasound. Given that I still get sick if I eat too much fat, it seems the gallstones are the most likely cause.
Pros of surgery: it’s a very simple surgery with a quick recovery time. I like the surgeon and have had two separate recommendations to him. Once the gallbladder is gone, there’s no chance it will cause further (possibly worse, possibly to the point of emergency) problems. I will probably be able to eat like a normal person instead of strictly budgeting my fat intake and always wondering if regardless I’ll get sick. Though my current pain is slight, it would be nice for it to be gone. I’ve met my deductible and half my out of pocket medical costs for this year, so now would be a prudent time for surgery.
Cons of surgery: there are risks that something could go wrong, though they are small. There’s a chance it won’t fix my stomach problems. It requires someone to take care of me and the kids for 4-5 days. Expense, pain, annoyance, and fear.
So, is there something I’m missing? Any personal experience to contribute? I’m leaning heavily towards surgery, but I’m a fraidy cat, so I want to make sure I’m considering all angles.
IANAD. A couple of people I know, including 3 family members, have had gall bladders removed.
First of all, if you ever do have a full-blown g.b. attack you will wish with all your body and soul that you’d had it out before. I have rarely seen a person in as much pain. The only thing comparable I’ve witnessed is a kidney stone attack. I’d rather give birth. Several times.
Second, if you do have it out, you may well still have to watch what you eat. Many post-g.b. patients have difficulty with some foods, especially fatty ones. Some have no problems whatsoever.
Decades ago the recovery was a real bear. The most recent one (family member) I observed was not that bad, they have much better surgery techniques now. YMMV. Have you had any other major surgeries?
If I were the one involved, I’d go for the surgery.
I had mine out on Wed, was back at work the following Monday. The keyhole surgery they do now gives you a very fast recovery. I just spent 1 night in the hospital. I don’t really see any downside to the surgery if your overall health is good. Those gallbladder attacks get old fast.
I had mine removed in day surgery and the only reason I took a whole week off was because I had enough sick leave to do that. What led to the surgery was a major attack at work - I was sure I was having a heart attack. Recovery was quick and easy, and the only reason I avoid greasy food is that it gives me heartburn, which it did before the surgery.
A few months later, my husband ended up in the hospital for 2 days (including his birthday) because his gallstones led to an infection that had him in agony for a week till the doctor figured out what the problem was.
Neither of us miss the offending organs or the associated gravel…
In the mid 90s I had a co-worker that was having the same problem. Then one day she didn’t look well and she said, “I am in so much pain, this has to be my gall bladder.” The next day she had her gall bladder out and she was like “That hurt so much I wish I had it removed before.”
I think the key to your situation is to talk to your doctor and assess the “worst case” possibility. Also you need to know your options if you travel to get it treated if it flairs up.
Only when you get those facts can you weigh the pros and cons
I have had one surgery before - emergency appendectomy in January. I came through with flying colors and recovery was pretty easy. It also makes me quite sure I don’t want to experience emergency surgery (no planning, hours in the ER waiting room, random surgeon, 10 pm surgery time) ever again if I can help it.
This surgery would be the same method as the appendectomy - laparoscopic, less than a week recovery time.
The worst case scenario is that a stone blocks the common bile duct, which requires immediate surgery. It is very painful, so I’d know I needed help. It’s not terribly likely. More likely is I’ll have a regular gallbladder attack (stone blocks the entrance to the gallbladder temporarily), and the likelihood increases with time, since the stones get bigger and more numerous.
If I’m away from home, and get sick, the options seem to be - if it’s not an emergency, wait for it to stop; if it is an emergency, go to nearest ER and whoever’s on call takes it out.
Reading about the experience of a true gallbladder attack, I’m thinking more and more I just want to have it out. I have irrational fears about surgery, but I’m also very much a “just in case” kind of person, and I hate to think of being at my family reunion in Disney next year (or insert inconvenient, unhappy time and place) and being struck with blinding pain.
My only concern was that they would have to do the old type surgery which happens in about 5% of cases - that is a long recovery. When I woke up I asked “Did they cut me wide open?” and the nurse told me no so I was happy.
I just had mine out last month. I’d had symptoms previously, but didn’t know what they were. Last month I had a severe attack, so I went to the emergency room. My gallbladder by then was just full of stones and had become unusually large. My surgeon says a laparascopic cholecystectomy usually takes her about half and hour. Mine took her 1.5 hours and she had to enlarge the incision near my navel to get the thing out. I had a pretty bad infection going on, so they kept me in the hospital for four days.
By contrast, a friend of mine had hers out on a non-emergency basis. She got to the hospital about 5 am and went home that same evening.
My understanding is that if you already have stones and have had attacks, it’s only going to get worse. I can’t compare the pain of my last attack to anything else, but it was no fun. Fortunately, I was diagnosed within two hours of arriving at the ER. They gave me a big shot of dilaudid and kept me on morphine until surgery the next afternoon.
One thing I didn’t know beforehand: you should have an adult stay with you at least the first night after you get home, as recommended on the Mayo Clinic website. That night I went to sleep in my usual position on my side. Getting up was as painful as the peak of my attack because it demanded more of my abdominal muscles than I expected.
Other than that, recovery was pretty easy. On the way home from the hospital I went shopping for almost an hour. Within 5 or 6 days of surgery I could do almost all normal household or office activities with little discomfort, as long as no bending over or heavy lifting was required.
Your chances of needing the big open incision are much higher if you wait until you need the surgery on an emergency basis. While I was well recovered in 6 days, when my mom had hers out 30 years ago (pre laparoscopy) it took about 6 weeks.
BTW, I can eat pretty much anything I want, too. Like smeghead I do have a slightly increased tendency for diarrhea after eating a very fatty meal – but I shouldn’t be doing that any way for other reasons. I haven’t noticed any other complications.
About 10 years ago I began having gallstone attacks. I suffered for months before I finally spoke to my GP, she sent me for an ultra sound to confirm her diagnosis. Absolutely my gall bladder was full of stones. I did not want to have surgery so I asked her what I could do to avoid the attacks. She advised the only thing I could do was to stop eating fatty foods. She did not have much confidence in my ability to do that and she said I would still have the stones. I reduced my fat intake to only 15 grams a day (and dropped a lot of weight too.) I did some research on-line and found that once a body begins to produce gall stones, even after the gall bladder is removed gall stones will be produced in the liver. I decided to go to an holistic therapist. She gave me a prescription for herbal tea I had filled at a local herbalist. The stuff tasted really awful, but I no longer have gall stones.
My husband lost that lottery - he had the full-on gall bladder attack where he wasn’t sure if he was dying or wished he was dying (he knew it was gallstones, since he had had them diagnosed already). He went into surgery a couple of days later, and they had to do the big incision because his stone was so big (think large black olive, filling the entire gall bladder). The stones just get bigger the longer you wait - he might have been able to have the laparoscopy if he’d had it out when he was diagnosed. The much larger incision has been much harder to recover from - two weeks in hospital, a month off work, and over a year and he’s still not back to 100%. I’d do it now if I were you, Cinnamon.
CT_Damsel, I don’t want to rain on your parade, but I have not seen any research that indicates that there is any effective treatment for gallstones other than surgery (and we have looked).
I can only speak from my personal experience. I drank the tea every day for 4 months and ate a low fat diet and had another ultra sound and the stones were gone. Perhaps I healed myself since I desperately did not want to have an operation.
I had a gallstone attack in my first year of uni; I have never been in so much pain. Literally curled into a ball sobbing until it went away. It came back every time I ate something, no matter what it was. Shudders at the memory. The doctors I saw basically told me they might be able to dissolve the stones (using ultrasound? Something like that? I’m half-remembering the French terms used, so it’s probably not that…) but that since I was young, the stones would probably come back.
I spoke to a nutrionalist who basically said the diet I would have to follow would be similar whether I had my gallbladder out or not - low-fat, etc. The difference would be that if I had my gallbladder out, I’d feel sick if I didn’t stick to it (in fact, that was a small problem for the first few months, then completely fine); if I didn’t have my gallbladder out, I’d probably get more pain like before. Easy choice to make, for me!
The surgery wasn’t a problem for me - though I found out morphine makes me hallucinate - and I’m left with 4 tiny scars. They didn’t even stitch them, just steristripped them, from what I remember. I was up and about again within a couple of days. (I was very bored of watching French telly; I probably should have stayed in bed a couple of days longer than that, since I was just a student and didn’t have any actual responsibilities!)
About 20-odd years ago, my gallbladder attacks began slowly and benignly. At first I’d suffer a little bit of gas here, a bit of the runs there. After a few months a tad bit of pain. Eventually the pain got to be so bad that one night I felt like I could not breathe and had my then b/f rush me to the hospital. Three days later, it was lap choly (sp?) time. The surgeon kept the stones for me to see - they were about 4 mm in diameter, but there were about 20-30 of them!
I have been a happy camper, digestively, ever since.
My case was weird because I had all the symptoms but they could not see stones on ultrasound. So I cut way back on eating fat and I was OK. After 3 years my pain came back and they saw the stones and they took my gallbladder out.
I used to have loads of gallbladder attacks. One a month, for a while, and then they gradually lessened. Now they’re about three years apart.
I never had the surgery because by the time it was diagnosed, they also determined it wasn’t an emergency, so it would cost me money (emergencies are free), and at that time I didn’t have the money to cover it. By the time I could afford it, I didn’t really need it anymore.
I don’t know why it’s improved so much. The body is a mysterious organism.
Once gallstones are present, there is always a possibility of problems with them (until the gallbladder and any released stones are removed). A common problem is a gallstone attack, which as others have mentioned can be debilitatingly painful. A less common but more worrisome possibility is pancreatitis, which can be life-threatening.
If you happen to have a serious gallstone attack, or get pancreatitis from a migrated stone, you will really regret not having had the gallbladder removed. And it will potentially be much worse if it happens when medical care is not quickly available. I would much more scared of these possibilities than of the gallbladder removal.