I have gallstones and have to get my gallbladder removed. What will the removal of the gallbladder do to my body? How long will recovery take? How were these stones formed and how could I have avoided them? I am in excellent health and up until the first gallstone attack, I was exercising three times a week. How long should I wait after the surgery before I resume exercising?
Gallstones are a very common problem in the U.S. Studies have shown that 10-17 percent of adults over the age of 40 have stones. Since obesity tends to increase the chance of developing gallstones (as do pregnancy and rapid weight loss) and the U.S. population is getting heavier by the year, we will probably be seeing a lot more gallstones in the future.
Most of them are made up of cholesterol, but it is not known what causes them to form. Having a high cholesterol level in the blood does not lead to gallstones, nor does a low cholesterol level protect one from them. The stones are probably caused by local factors in the bile or the gallbladder, which cause the cholesterol to form crystals. There are no special diets that need to be followed if you have gallbladder disease, and none that are known to prevent its development. Reducing the fat in your diet used to be advised for everyone with gallbladder disease, but is no longer thought to be useful, although it is always a good idea for other reasons to eat less fat than the typical American does.
Many people have gallstones with no symptoms, or only vague symptoms which can be from many other causes. The classical symptom of gallstones, called biliary colic, consists of pain in the upper, middle or right abdomen, coming on suddenly and often spreading up into the right side of the chest to the shoulder. It may last for three to four hours, is steady, and there is often nausea and vomiting. The pain can be very severe, but many people have mild attacks.
Belching, bloating, fatty food intolerance and acidic pain in the upper abdomen have often been attributed to gallbladder disease, but many studies have shown these symptoms to be just as common in people who do not have gallstones as in people who do. People with these symptoms, who have their gallbladders removed, often get the symptoms back afterwards. Therefore many experts recommend removal of the gallbladder and stones only when an attack of biliary colic has clearly occurred, or if a complication such as infection in the gallbladder is present. Diabetics in particular are more prone to severe complications. A study of many people with gallstones who did not have surgery immediately and were followed for at least ten years showed no deaths due to gallbladder disease, although some of them eventually had to have their gallbladders removed.
The modern technique of laparoscopic cholecystectomy, removal of the gallbladder and stones through small incisions, is quite safe if done by an experienced surgeon. Removing the gallbladder does not effect one’s future health. It seems to be one of those organs we can do perfectly well without. The laparoscopic surgery causes less post-operative pain, much smaller scars, and less time in the hospital. I think you should be able to resume moderate exercise quite quickly, and your full exercise schedule within a couple of weeks, but check with your surgeon and follow his recommendation about this.