Gallbladder Surgery

Gallbladder Removal Surgery to Prevent Gallstones

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Gallstones -- hard, pebble-like deposits that form when bile collects in your gallbladder -- can cause severe pain, nausea, and other problems that interfere with your quality of life. Often, the best solution is surgery to remove your gallbladder before more serious issues occur. Duke Health surgeons accurately diagnose gallstones and other gallbladder diseases and recommend the best treatment to relieve your pain and restore your quality of life.

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When to See Your Doctor for Gallstones

Some people with gallstones suffer from gallbladder attacks, which are characterized by abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and bloating, especially after eating. If you experience these symptoms, it is important to see your doctor to be assessed for gallstones. Left untreated, they can lead to more serious health issues such as an infected or ruptured gallbladder, blocked bile ducts, or pancreatitis.

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Diagnosing Gallstones

Your doctor will perform a physical exam, ask you about your symptoms, and take a complete medical history. Depending on your condition, you may also undergo one or more of the following tests.


Ultrasound, which uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of structures inside your body, is the most common imaging test to look for gallstones. The test involves moving a wand-like device back and forth across your abdomen.


If you have symptoms of gallstones but they cannot be detected on traditional imaging tests, your doctor may recommend a hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid (HIDA) scan. This test uses an injected radioactive tracer and a scanning camera to evaluate the function of your gallbladder.

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Treatments for Gallstones

Nonsurgical Treatments
Conservative treatments such as a low-fat diet or medication may provide temporary relief from symptoms, but in most cases, these are not permanent solutions. Persistent symptoms can lead to future complications, and surgery is typically the best way to alleviate problems caused by gallstones and prevent them from returning.

If gallbladder surgery is not a safe option for you, your doctor may recommend a cholecystostomy. In this minimally invasive procedure, X-ray or ultrasound technology is used to guide the placement of a tube that will drain excess fluid from your gallbladder.

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) may be recommended if gallstones are trapped in the bile or pancreatic ducts. Your surgeon uses a thin, flexible tube with a light on the end and small tools to carefully remove the gallstones. This may be performed along with surgery to remove your gallbladder.

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Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why we are once again recognized as the best hospital in North Carolina, and nationally ranked in 11 adult and 9 pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report for 2023–2024.

Gallbladder Surgery

Surgery to remove your gallbladder, called cholecystectomy (not to be confused with cholecystostomy), is the only permanent treatment for gallstones. In almost all cases, it is performed using minimally invasive techniques on an outpatient basis, meaning you can return home the same day.

Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy

Your surgeon makes three or four small incisions in the middle and on the right side of your abdomen. Carbon dioxide gas is used to inflate your abdomen, and a thin tube with a camera on the end is inserted through one of the incisions so your gallbladder can be viewed on a screen. Your gallbladder is then removed through one of these incisions.

Open Surgery

If your surgeon discovers issues with your gallbladder during laparoscopic cholecystectomy, they may switch to an open procedure to remove it safely. These problems include significant inflammation, scar tissue, injury, or bleeding. Open surgery requires a larger incision and a two- to three-day hospital stay.


After a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, you can return to normal activities after a few days. During this time, you may feel discomfort in your abdomen or shoulder if carbon dioxide gas remains in your body. If you have an open procedure, you may need a week or more to recover.  

This page was medically reviewed on 10/20/2023 by