The gallbladder is a small bag that sits beneath the liver. It stores bile (gall), a greenish liquid that is produced by the liver. Bile helps break down fat into smaller molecules for easier digestion. It flows from the liver to the gallbladder, where it is concentrated, until your next fatty meal, when it is released into the small intestine. As the fat molecules are absorbed, bile is likewise reabsorbed and carried back to the liver.
Sometimes, gallstones form in the gallbladder and obstruct the flow of bile. This can cause severe pain and is often treated by removing the stones as well as the gallbladder. There are other conditions which may lead to gallbladder surgery (cholecystectomy), but this is the most common reason for treatment.
Since the gallbladder is merely a storehouse for bile, its removal does not affect one's general health or digestive functions. Bile is produced in the liver and it can still flow freely into the small intestine to digest fat. However, instead of being concentrated in the gallbladder, bile now continuously drips in small amounts into the intestine. This change can lead to symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating, pain, and gas after eating a fatty meal. These symptoms usually improve after a while as the body gets used to the changes.
How to Manage Symptoms after Gallbladder Surgery
During recovery from gallbladder surgery, it is important to follow your doctor's instruction about introducing foods slowly into your diet. At first, you will be instructed to take clear liquids such as broths and gelatin until you are ready for more foods without feeling nauseated. Most people are able to return to their normal diets within a few weeks after cholecystectomy. However, it is best to take small, frequent meals rather than big meals. Generally, you will need to reduce your fat intake during the recovery period, as well as spicy foods and high-fiber foods.
Here are some foods to go easy on while your body adjusts after gallbladder surgery:
- Fried foods like French fries
- Junk foods like potato chips
- Processed meats such as bacon, sausage, bologna
- Other high-fat meats such as ribs, ground meat
- Creamy soups, sauces and gravy
- Foods with oil/lard/butter
- Chicken/turkey skin
- Whole-grain breads
- Nuts and seeds
- Brussels sprouts
- Spicy foods
Over a few weeks, you can include some lean meat, fish, non-fat dairy, vegetables, fruits and whole grains into your diet. Some people may have difficulty digesting caffeinated beverages as well as dairy products. The gallbladder does not have anything to do with the metabolism of alcohol, which is broken down in the liver, but some people have difficulty handling it after gallbladder surgery.
Ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian for more detailed advice on changing your diet while recovering from surgery.
When to Call Your Doctor
It is common to experience diet-related symptoms after gallbladder surgery, but it is important to call your doctor if you experience unusual symptoms that may be related to serious complications:
- Severe abdominal pain that persists or does not improve
- Severe nausea/vomiting
- Absence of bowel movement after surgery, if more than 3 days
- Inability to pass gas after surgery, if more than 3 days
- Yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
- Frequent diarrhea after surgery, if more than three days
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