After gallbladder surgery, will I ever be able to eat anything I love?
September 7, 2007 7:20 AM   Subscribe

Ultrasound and bloodwork after several excruciating bouts of pain this week show that I apparently have gallbladder disease. Help.

This is completely unexpected -- I'm 33, I weigh all of 125 pounds, I don't eat any fast food or junk food, my diet includes plenty of fruits and veggies and whole grains. Previously my cholesterol levels were normal. This has all come on very suddenly.

Oh yeah, and I'm a devoted foodie and freelance food writer. I'm all about the good food. I was a picky eater as a kid who discovered food after I left for college; I now preach with the zeal of the converted. This diagnosis is about the third-worst thing I could hear.

I know that a bunch of MeFites have had this surgery. I'm freaking out about the surgery itself and worse, the prospect of not being able to eat adventurously for the rest of my life.

Anyone have any reassurances for me?
posted by desuetude to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Take a deep breath, I think you'll be fine. I had the same sudden bouts of severe pain at the young age of 19, and had to have my gallbladder removed. The only thing that really effects me now is that very greasy foods tend to, well... move through at an increased rate. I know this, and just plan accordingly if I do want to eat something of that ilk. Let me know if you have any questions
posted by shinynewnick at 7:32 AM on September 7, 2007

Is the surgeon doing it laparoscopically? Usually they do, unless there is a specific reason to do open surgery.

My mom had her gallbladder removed, went on a cruise 10 days later and felt fabulous. Mr 26.2 had his removed and had a few weeks of intense pain, but then healed well. After about 3-4 weeks he was back to training for a marathon.

Do your research. Prepare to have people help you post op.

Good luck.
posted by 26.2 at 7:35 AM on September 7, 2007

My old roommate got this done. He was fine two days after. Getting your tonsils removed seems more involved.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:44 AM on September 7, 2007

My laparoscopic surgery was not a big deal; they didn't even keep me overnight. The pain afterwards was nothing compared to the pain of a gallbladder attack.

The after-effects in terms of eating for me have been pretty much what shinynewnick described. I haven't found it to be a terrible inconvenience and I still eat lots of good food.
posted by Daily Alice at 7:50 AM on September 7, 2007

The gallbladder is non-essential. Your body will adjust.

My friend had her gallbladder removed laproscopically. Didn't seem to have any problems with the surgery itself, but it took some time for her stomach to adjust to not having a ready supply of bile.

Nowadays, a couple years later, she eats pretty much the way she used to with no ill-effects. In fact, she can eat a wider range of foods now that she doesn't have to worry about things triggering a gallbladder attack.
posted by Void_Ptr at 7:55 AM on September 7, 2007

I don't know what it is, but it seems like half the people I know have had this done. Everyone's bounced back pretty quick.
posted by jquinby at 7:55 AM on September 7, 2007

The recovery time is very short for laparoscopic. I had my surgery over Christmas break, I was out of the hospital that afternoon, and I was on a plane heading back to college two days later, feeling just fine with only a couple of tiny scars that are hardly noticeable.
posted by shinynewnick at 7:56 AM on September 7, 2007

I had my gallbladder out this past Christmas. I was driving myself to the pub a week afterwards, and enjoyed a chicken fried steak within a month. I eat whatever I want to now, including greasy, high fat, spicy, and/or tomatoey food, and have less trouble than I did before.

Ask a doctor or two whom you trust who they would recommend for the surgery. I got the same name from 2 doctors, went with him, and was very happy. He was a general surgeon who spend lots and lots of time taking gallbladders out laparoscopically. It went so quickly and smoothly that he was out in the waiting room talking to my family within an hour -- freaked them out, because they weren't expecting to see him for at least another 45 minutes, and they thought something had gone wrong.

(On a side note, my cholesterol has always been low, but I had cholesterol stones. My mother's cholesterol has also always been low, and her gallbladder nearly killed her before a doctor decided to take it out.)
posted by katemonster at 8:01 AM on September 7, 2007

My wife had this surgery, and because she had a lot of stones, it almost went from laproscopic to regular, which would have made things a lot rougher. I strongly second 26.2's suggestion - have people ready to help you post-op, because you can't really predict exactly how it will go. It's still abdominal surgery, so when the doc says take it easy, adhere to their advice scrupulously.

As far as eating afterward, after an adjustment period that was pretty short, no problem, although shinynewnick's comments are spot-on. Trust me, the ability to eat without worrying about an attack will trump everything.

Seriously, don't freak out. Just prepare adequately. That way if you have a slightly longer convalescence, you've got people to help. If not, you can thank them and send them on their way.
posted by canine epigram at 8:22 AM on September 7, 2007

Oh, yeah ... I'm nthing the no-worries. Had it done laparoscopically, went home the same day, went for a 20-minute walk outside the next day, eat anything I want now with no ill effects.

Consider yourself reassured.
posted by mccxxiii at 8:25 AM on September 7, 2007

The pain of gallbladder problems is far worse than the surgery or the resulting recovery, as far as I can tell from my experiences with relatives who have had the problems. Take it easy, calm down, and get well soon.
posted by misha at 8:38 AM on September 7, 2007

The pain is worse from the attacks. The surgery was not bad. The first few days it's tough doing activities that require your abdominal muscles (going from sitting to standing). Sleep in a recliner the first night or two - life will be easier. I worried myself crazy - in the end it was nothing.
posted by jaythebull at 8:47 AM on September 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just to temper some of this, I think 26.2's comment is a good indication of the range of convalescent outcomes. If you do happen to take a week or two to come back up to speed, don't freak out and think something's wrong.
posted by canine epigram at 8:48 AM on September 7, 2007

My 2 cents: I had my gallbladder removed 2 years ago, no post-op problems, back to normal in a couple of days. The surgery was no at 7:00 am and back home by noon. The surgery and recovery was nothing compared to the pain of gallstones, so stay away from fatty foods for now, but post-op, I have had no significant problems eating whatever I like.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 8:49 AM on September 7, 2007

I had the surgery back in March - laparoscopic, no problems. In fact, the only complication I had was that I had an allergic reaction to the tape that was holding the gauze over the main incision. I don't have any problems with food, but I know some people who have had the surgery and certain high-fat foods did make them have digestion issues for a few months afterwards. Eventually their systems adjusted, though.
posted by candyland at 8:49 AM on September 7, 2007

Best answer: I'll just relay my experience because I was very nervous going in (calling friends from ER room, scared and crying), it turned out well. I don't regret it a bit and the positive outcome has made me less of a control freak. I fly more readily now, for example. I put up with the severe sometimes near incapacitating gb pain for years. No pain reliever would help it, then one night it started and by noon the next morning, it hadn't stopped. I drove myself (stupid) to ER. They removed it pretty quickly. The results have been great compared to the pain. No more pain at all. I can't believe how long I dealt with the pain out of pure fear.

The recovery from surgery was about 10 days for me, I didn't have to take short term disability. I was up and about within 5 or 6 days. The main struggle after surgery was moving in and out of bed/sofa due to soreness all over from the lap surgery. For the surgeries, they inflate your abdomen which pulls everywhere else on your torso. So, 2 days after, the soreness starts and you think you're getting worse, but no. I'm really out of shape, so the soreness may have hit me worse than another. Lots of painkillers so I didn't feel a thing. They gave me anti nausea meds as well, so no trouble there. The dr told me to stay away from fatty and spicy foods for a few months. I immediately wanted Thai.

Dietary wise, I've had alot of problems. If I eat anything fatty, it rushes through me. I still have problems with severe diarrhea (1 year later). I also have IBS symptoms, too, so I think the surgery just aggravated that further. The dietary troubles are nothing compared to the pain before. Just a matter of trial and error if that happens to you (and it does happen to LOTS of folks). I usually just eat small meals to keep my gastro system happy.

For prep, since you know beforehand, I'd go ahead and get all your prescriptions filled and food ready. I was alone, so if you have a mate, then great. You'll need some fat pants probably, my abdomen was really swollen and no way would my jeans fit. You'll sleep alot the first few days, then be too sore (in places you don't think you should be sore) to move, etc.

Me, personally, I could never have planned for the surgery. I would have chickened out. Emergency yanking was the only way it was going to happen. I was terrified. It was my first surgery (I was 32) and I'd do it over again voluntarily if I had to.
posted by ick at 8:57 AM on September 7, 2007

Best answer: I'm 29, 117 pounds, vegetarian, and I just had my gallbladder removed last week. So, hi, welcome to the club of people who are highly unlikely to get gallbladder disease and get it anyway because apparently it's a genetic thing that doctors and nurses are only just getting used to after cramming "FFF" (fat, forty, female) as the only group of people who get gallstones. (I'm frustrated about it because I was very sick in December and they couldn't figure out what was wrong with me, partly because "it can't be gallbladder disease: you're young and skinny")

Anyway, surgery: it was done outpatient, and I was supposed to be back home after 6 hours, but I didn't do well with the anaesthetics and spent the night in the ER on an IV because I was throwing up everything I tried to eat or drink, including my painkillers. This is the most common thing that can go wrong ("post operative nausea and vomiting" occurs in 1 in 3 people after laparoscopic surgery, says the internet), and it's still far more likely that you'll be perfectly fine and home smiling the same day. I was fine very soon after, just very tired. Now I'm back at work with only tiny cuts in my body from the surgery (read up on "laparoscopic cholecystectomy" online, that's what they do.)

And the most important thing: YES, you can eat EVERYTHING. I tried pizza earlier this week, and was surprised: no more weird stomach ache after eating greasy cheesy pizza! It worked! So go get it removed, and you'll be able to eat as good as before you got gallbladder disease, and much better than you do now.
posted by easternblot at 9:14 AM on September 7, 2007

Had it done more than a decade ago. Absolutely no problems. Walked a mile a day later. Ate whatever I wanted. Never looked back. You need to know, though, that this isn't simple surgery. I'm sure your surgeon will explain it all to you. The surgeon has a much tougher time than you will. The sooner you get it done, the less likely you are to need to have the long incision - you really don't want that. This is not a problem that will go away if you ignore it.
posted by clarkstonian at 9:53 AM on September 7, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the outpouring of stories and advice so far (I'm much calmer already that when I posted this question.)

This is my first experience with gallbladder attacks. I've never had a moment's twinge of any sort of eating-food-related-pain. That is, until earlier this week, when I was woken out of a sound sleep every night by these terrible attacks, with repeat occurrences in the early evening. I was afraid to take painkillers, not knowing if they'd make something worse, so I just curled up into a ball and rode it out.

How long/how many times did you folks have gallbladder attacks before you got diagnosed and had the thing removed?

easternblot, the one and only time I was in the ER (for something else) I discovered that the anti-nausea stuff in my IV made me throw up. So thanks for the head's up on the possible post-op issues.

I'm going on vacation this week (yeah, great timing for these attacks). If I want to be able to do this surgery scheduled, rather than ER, I have to keep the gallbladder calm until I return. (Attacks seem to have abated for the time being...none for 36 hours.) I'm getting mixed results on what I can and can't have to avoid attacks, particularly in regards to vegetable-derived fats like avocado?

Also, could someone please tell me that I'll still be able to eat small portions of organ meats after this surgery?
posted by desuetude at 10:21 AM on September 7, 2007

Sorry you are in so much pain.

My friend, a nurse, had gallbladder surgery a couple months ago. I asked her about it yesterday and she's not very happy about it. She said that she would have been more diligent in investigating the alternatives- primarily acupuncture.

She has to take digestive enzymes at every meal for the rest of her life, which isn't *so* terrible, but a bit incovenient.

Good luck with whatever you choose. Hope you feel better soon.
posted by solongxenon at 10:21 AM on September 7, 2007

I had my gall bladder removed in July. Aside from the incision pain, I had some intestinal issues for about a week. Since then I have had no problems whatsoever. I went to the beach a week later as if nothing had ever happened.

Don't be freaked out by what you read on the web. It's true that some people have digestive issues after gall bladder removal. But it's not universal.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:31 AM on September 7, 2007

Relax. You will be fine.

You will want to avoid anything fatty before the surgery in order to avoid an attack (oy they hurt) .

As to food, immediately after surgery you will want to stay away from greasy food but I can guarantee you you will be able to eat anything you like before it's over with.

(In the beginning you will want to be near a bathroom after a heavy meal. Sorry if that is TMI. )
posted by konolia at 12:18 PM on September 7, 2007

I'm going through this exact issue right now. I went to the ER a few months ago aand discovered that I have gallstones. I'm currently investigating several different methods of handling it, because.. well.. I don't want to go under the knife unless I have to. My gall bladder is there for a reason, and I'd prefer to leave it if I can.

From what I've read you can either have it removed, take experimental medication to attempt to break them up, or have a flammable anesthetic injected directly into your gall bladder (to dissolve the stones). All of which sound equally appetizing.

However, from what I've learned, surgery (laproscopy) is the quickest and easiest way to get it handled. So take that for what it's worth. My wife has had the surgery, and other than a little bit of IBS she's done fine.

I guess I'm just stubborn :D
posted by jackofsaxons at 12:34 PM on September 7, 2007

I had attacks for a few years, varying in severity. I went to ER twice over it, the second time they removed it. The first time they drugged me until the morning when it resolved and told me to see a gastro dr. Another time, I started driving towards the ER and it resolved. That happened a couple times actually, where'd I'd be hurting, get in my car, and after driving a bit, it'd resolve by the time I got to dr or hospital. I had 3 to 5 attacks every 3 months, I'd say. Usually when I had something like icecream, pizza, or any big meal (regardless of fat content). Sometimes something as tiny as one greasy chicken wing would set it off. So, after more than 2 years and 20 attacks, I had it removed. I fit the FFF profile mentioned earlier, except I'm not 40. This started around age 30 for me.

I'm able to eat meat after the surgery. I was veg for years and I've never been able to eat anything but small portions of red meat. A year after the attacks, I'm careful to eat smaller meals, know where bathrooms are, avoid caffeine (makes diarrhea worse), and avoid dairy. These are all things that could be easily attributable to IBS (undiagnosed) symptoms though.
posted by ick at 12:44 PM on September 7, 2007

My wife had it done several years ago. No ongoing food problems aside from diarrhea if she eats too many bell peppers(?)
posted by Rock Steady at 12:52 PM on September 7, 2007

And now I can eat ice cream without fear. Before surgery, a normal serving of ice cream would hurt me about half the time. It was a risk. Wasn't a major issue, since I'm not an ice cream addict like many, but still... in the hot summer months, it's nice to be able to actually enjoy ice cream.

But, post-surgery, I can't enjoy my lattes as much anymore. That's been hard.
posted by ick at 12:52 PM on September 7, 2007

Salmonella bacteria can apparently settle in the gall bladder chronically after an episode of salmonella-related food poisoning in up to a few per cent of cases--that's one theory of what was going on with 'typhoid Mary,' for example.

I don't know whether they can cause stones (nor do you explicitly say that you have stones, though I would say it is implied) and the searching I just did seems to indicate that may be disputed, but if you have had any recent episodes of food poisoning, and since you have no history of gall bladder problems or high cholesterol, and you are an adventurous eater, I would look into the possibility my gall bladder is acting up because of an infection before I had it removed. If it is infected it still might have to be removed, of course, but one page I glanced over said that three months of antibiotic therapy is standard before an infected gall bladder is taken out.
posted by jamjam at 2:27 PM on September 7, 2007

The presence of gallstones on ultrasound is not diagnostic for gall bladder disease. It's more a gestalt of the actual episodes combined with the radiology. A thickened gallbladder wall on US would also help to confirm the dx. Since you haven't divulged more of your work-up, one assumed this is the actual diagnosis, but as you said, it is more uncommon in slender young persons, and tons of healthy people have gallstones visible on routine ultrasounds. A HIDA scan might also be of utility if there is some doubt.
posted by docpops at 2:50 PM on September 7, 2007

Response by poster: docpops, the gallbladder wall is not thickened. The diagnosis of gall bladder disease is preliminary, and is the result of the ultrasound, which showed several gallstones, combined with the results of the bloodwork, which showed very, very high levels of AST and ALT. (The ultrasounds were not routine, they were ordered due to acute pain that woke me from a sound sleep three nights in a row.)

I'm going back for more bloodwork next week before I talk to the surgeon. I expect the surgeon will order a HIDA scan and whatever else. They definitely intend to do some further testing before scheduling surgery.

jamjam, the salmonella connection is really interesting. However, I have not had food poisoning. I would say "alas, I have not had food poisoning" but that seems to be going too far, even if it would mean avoiding surgery.
posted by desuetude at 4:03 PM on September 7, 2007

Best answer: I had gallstones/gallbladder disease for 6 months of my life, at aged 20 (I only got this diagnosed after I travelled to Canada and had an attack so bad, my then-boyfriend rushed me to the ER - the NHS sucks), and the attacks only got worse and worse as it progressed. Eventually when I did eat something wrong, the pain would go on for over 8 hours, I was on double dosage of extremely strong painkillers that made no impact and the only thing that would kill the pain properly was morphine. I lost a lot of weight, and developed the need to vomit every time my belly felt too bloated. Lost over 50lbs. Finally developed peritonitis, ended up in hospital for a week and a half, had a 24 hour attack whilst there, and then they yanked it out. I love the surgeons and the assisting team for quoting Monty Python at me as I went under. Good times.

If you have it removed via the three incisions/bellybutton method, be prepared for your stomach muscles to be pretty sore for a good month or so. But they'll probably give you painkillers for that, and it's more uncomfortable than painful. Be careful sitting up after the op.

I occasionally have phantom twinges/pains every once in a while - probably psychological, but it does remind me to keep the fluids going. The surgeon made sure to let me know that all I really needed to do was limit alcohol and make sure I drink enough water every day. 3 years on, and I am very very happy without the bastard horrible fucking thing, and I am glad that it was either consigned to an incinerator, or held in a jar for future teaching. I was also a great case study for the student doctors running around the hospital.

Tips for keeping it settled while it's there: drink a whole bunch of apple juice, as natural as you can get it. Chicken noodle soup. Lots of water. No dairy, I repeat NO DAIRY. No alcohol. Lots of fruit, vegetables, salads, grilled chicken, crackers, that kind of thing.

I ate McDonalds the day after I got home from the hospital. You'll be fine :) Eating a massively fatty food and having no pain will be the best experience of your life, and I urge you to do it as soon as you feel you can face it. I didn't each much of the McDonalds, to be fair, but it was an achievement for me. Aside from drinking water/limiting alcohol, there's nothing specific I have cut out of my diet because I don't need to. Sure, I now eat healthier and I can't stand the taste of dairy, but that's because I realised how I'd damaged my body, and I discovered the joys of soy!

I send you all the luck in the world. It's a miserable experience, and one I am glad will never happen to me again.

And after typing all of this, I hope it's legible!
posted by saturnine at 6:50 PM on September 7, 2007

desuetude - sounds like you've got your bases covered.

As others have said, it tends to be a very welcomed operation.
posted by docpops at 8:57 PM on September 7, 2007

Had my gb out laparocscopically almost three years ago now, when I was 29. Was SO RELIEVED to have it out of me after 10-12 excruciating attacks. My digestive system is far more healthy and I'm much more in touch with/aware of its workings now than I ever was. Overall I can't imagine not having had the surgery.

I took three weeks off work. YMMV.
posted by loiseau at 1:58 AM on September 8, 2007

Oh, and I eat what I want now. I couldn't before the surgery.
posted by loiseau at 1:58 AM on September 8, 2007

Yes, yes, yes -- have the laparascopic surgery. I had my gallbladder removed laparascopically at the same time I had a D&C (uterine problems that still plague me). Pain from latter was much worse than GB removal. I can eat, safely, a greater variety of foods now that the offending organ has been offed. Recovery time was quick, and I'm 60 and way overweight. So I'll bet you breeze through it.

My only regret? I didn't ask the doc to save what he called one of the biggest gallstones he'd seen (and he's done dozens upon dozens of GB removals). I wanted to use it as a paperweight! Damn.
posted by Smalltown Girl at 7:28 PM on September 9, 2007

Response by poster: To gallbladder sufferers of the future:

I had surgery yesterday; the surgical nurse was right there when I woke up to tell me that it went very well. My belly hurts a lot more today than it did yesterday and my shoulder aches (presumably from the gas used to pump up the gut during surgery.) I'm thankful for the percoset, but I don't feel quite as overall-lousy as I thought I would. Burping is a surprise yeowch! though.

Haven't eaten too much yet. Given my cast-iron digestion pre-surgery, I'm hoping that I adjust quickly.

You guys are awesome. I went into this a whole lot calmer thanks to all of your advice.
posted by desuetude at 2:09 PM on September 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

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