What are the Different Gallstone Surgery Complications?

T. Broderick

There are a variety of gallstone surgery complications. These complications fall into two categories: complications that can occur in any surgery and complications specific to gallstone and gallbladder removal surgery. In most cases complications are treatable. Treatment for complications requires re-hospitalization and in most cases a second surgery. Prognosis for recovery even after complications is still overwhelmingly positive.

A healthy gallbladder and one with gallstones.
A healthy gallbladder and one with gallstones.

Gallstone surgery refers to both the removal of gallstones and the removal of the gallbladder itself, the organ where gallstones form. As a person can live without his or her gallbladder, most surgeons decide to remove it rather than having to remove new gallstones at a later date. Complications can occur with both surgeries, but as it is a more complex operation, they tend to develop more after gallbladder removal surgery. Though there are many specific gallstone surgery complications, all patients undergoing surgery face a similar risk: infection.

There are a variety of complications associated with gallstone surgery.
There are a variety of complications associated with gallstone surgery.

Post-surgical infection can occur after any surgery. This trend has increased in recent years as antibiotic resistant bacteria such as MRSA have developed inside hospitals worldwide. Part of planning a gallstone surgery should include requesting information from local hospitals concerning their post-surgical infection rate. Even if one chooses a clean hospital, preventing infection becomes a patient's responsibility after being discharged. Properly cleaning the incision site and following any other rules a surgeon prescribes is essential to preventing infection.

A scalpel is a small, sharp knife that is used in surgeries to make incisions.
A scalpel is a small, sharp knife that is used in surgeries to make incisions.

Symptoms from hospital acquired infections usually appear before a patient is discharged. The incision site becomes red and swollen, and the patient might develop a fever. A doctor will immediately put the patient on antibiotics. Though most hospital infections are treatable, the aforementioned MRSA has a mortality rate of roughly 10%. If a patient begins to show symptoms of an infection after returning home, it is his or her responsibility to immediately notify his or her doctor of the infection. Beginning treatment as soon as possible increases the chances of a full recovery without lasting side effects.

Besides infection, the other category of gallstone surgery complications are those that occur due to nature of the surgery. Both gallstone surgery and gallbladder removal surgery carry the risk of bile leak and injury to the bile duct. Both of these complications cause bile, normally stored in the gallbladder, to leak into the small intestine or pancreas, causing intense pain. These gallstone surgery complications are fairly common, and without a definite surgical cure, most treatment options are mainly palliative.

Out of all gallstone surgery complications, slip of the clip is the rarest. At the end of gallbladder removal surgery, a surgeon places a clip over the bile duct to prevent bile leak. If the clip should slip out of place, bile begins to leak and causes the symptoms described above. A second surgery is necessary to put the clip back into place. A patient is able to resume living a normal, pain-free life after recovery.

Gallstone surgery typically involves removing the gallstones as well as the gallbladder.
Gallstone surgery typically involves removing the gallstones as well as the gallbladder.

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Discussion Comments


@Grivusangel -- Thank goodness my mom didn't have those problems when she had her gallstone surgery. She also had it done laparoscopically and aside from being sore for a couple of days, came through it like a champ.

She worked in hospitals as a lab tech, though, and told about how, before the days of laparoscopic surgery, doctors had to make huge incisions to get to the gallbladder, so it was considered major surgery, and complications were much more common. Sometimes, they still have to do an incision, but it's not nearly as large or involved as it was, say 30 years ago.


A co-worker had gallbladder surgery and she was sick for about three weeks after. Her doctor said she had a bad reaction to the anesthesia, and just didn't do well with it. Her surgery was laparoscopic, so that helped, but she still had problems.

She was off work for three weeks, but said she was on a mostly liquid and bland diet for about two months. She lost about 20 pounds after the surgery because she couldn't keep anything down. I'm not sure what causes those kinds of symptoms, but I'd certainly call her condition a "complication." She's OK now, but it took her a long while to get back to normal.

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