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How is a cholecystectomy performed?

Your cholecystectomy will be performed in a hospital. The surgery involves by one large incision or several small incisions in the abdomen. This section describes both an open and laparoscopic (minimally invasive) cholecystectomy. For more information on laparoscopic cholecystectomy, click here

Surgical approaches to cholecystectomy

Your surgeon will perform a cholecystectomy using one of the following approaches: 

  • Minimally invasive surgery involves inserting special instruments and a laparoscope through four small incisions in the abdomen. The laparoscope is a thin, lighted instrument with a small camera that sends pictures of the inside of your abdomen to a video screen. Your surgeon sees the images on the video screen while removing your gallbladder. Minimally invasive surgery generally involves a faster recovery and less pain than open surgery. This is because it causes less trauma to tissues and organs. Your surgeon will make a small incision instead of a larger one used in open surgery. Surgical tools are threaded around muscles and other tissues instead of cutting through or displacing them as in open surgery.
  • Open surgery involves making a large incision in the abdomen. Open surgery allows your surgeon to directly see and access the surgical area. Open surgery generally involves a longer recovery and more pain than minimally invasive surgery. Open surgery requires a larger incision and more cutting and displacement of muscle and other tissues than minimally invasive surgery. Despite this, open surgery may still be a safer or more effective method for certain patients.

Doctors sometimes combine a minimally invasive procedure with an open surgery. Your doctor will advise you on which type of surgery is best for you and how long you need to stay in the hospital based on your diagnosis, age, medical history, general health, and possibly your personal preference. 

Learn about the different cholecystectomy surgeries and ask why your surgeon will use a particular type for you.

Types of anesthesia that may be used

Your surgeon will perform a cholecystectomy using general anesthesia. General anesthesia is a combination of intravenous (IV) medications and gases that put you in a deep sleep. You are not aware of the surgery and will not feel any pain.

You may receive a peripheral nerve block infusion in addition to general anesthesia. A peripheral nerve block infusion is an injection or continuous drip of liquid anesthetic. The anesthetic flows through a tiny tube inserted near your surgical site to control pain during and after surgery.

What to expect the day of your cholecystectomy

The day of your surgery, you can expect to:

  • Talk with a preoperative nurse. The nurse will perform an exam and ensure that all needed tests are in order. The nurse can also answer questions and will make sure you understand and sign the surgical consent form.
  • Remove all clothing and jewelry and dress in a hospital gown. It is a good idea to leave all jewelry and valuables at home or with a family member. Your care team will give you blankets for modesty and warmth.
  • Talk with the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist about your medical history and the type of anesthesia you will have.
  • A surgical team member will start an IV. 
  • The anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist will start your anesthesia.
  • A tube will be placed in your windpipe to protect and control breathing during general anesthesia. You will not feel or remember this or the surgery as they happen.
  • The surgical team will monitor your vital signs and other critical body functions. This occurs throughout surgery and recovery until you are alert, breathing effectively, and your vital signs are stable.

What are the risks and potential complications of a cholecystectomy?  

As with all surgeries, a cholecystectomy involves risks and possible complications. Most cholecystectomies are successful, but complications may become serious in some cases. Complications can develop during the surgery or recovery.