Most operations to remove gallbladder cancer are major operations. You usually have them in specialist centres. Like all operations there is a risk of problems or complications.
A complication is anything that happens after surgery that makes your recovery more difficult. For example chest infections and blood clots are possible complications after any surgery.
Before offering surgery, your doctor makes sure the benefits of having the operation outweighs the risks. Discussing the risks with your surgeon will help you decide whether to have surgery or not.
Some complications can be serious and life threatening. But they are becoming less common as surgery is done at specialist centres where the surgeons do more of these operations.
Leakage of bile
Bile is a fluid that helps to digest food by breaking down fat. The liver makes bile which is stored in the gallbladder.
When the gallbladder is removed, special clips are used to seal the tube that connects the gallbladder to the main bile duct.
Sometimes after surgery bile fluid can leak out into the tummy (abdomen) when the gallbladder is removed. Symptoms of a bile leak include a swollen, painful tummy, feeling sick and a fever. A drainage tube can be left in, until the bile leak stops.
There is a risk of infection after any operation. An infection can develop if there is a build up of fluid or blood after your surgery. The wound area may also become red and sore.
Your nurse will give you antibiotics through your drip if you develop an infection. Your doctor will drain abscesses or any fluid that has collected internally. They usually do this by using an x-ray or ultrasound to help guide a needle or tube into place.
A chest infection is a common complication of many operations. It happens because you are not moving around or breathing deeply enough after your surgery. What you would normally cough up stays in your lungs and becomes a focus for infection. You can help to prevent this by doing your deep breathing exercises.
Below is a short video showing breathing and circulation exercises after surgery.
Breathing and circulation exercises after surgery
These exercises help prevent you developing a chest infection or blood clots in your legs after surgery. These problems are more likely when you are not moving around as you would normally.
You can do these breathing exercises while sitting up in a chair or in a bed or whilst lying down.
Relax your shoulders and upper chest.
Take a slow, deep, comfortable breath in and hold for a couple of seconds, then slowly breathe out.
Repeat this 3 times.
You can start these breathing exercises as soon as you come round from your anaesthetic.
You should try to do them every hour when awake until you are fully mobile.
If you need to cough, support your wound with your arms, a pillow or a rolled up towel.
If you are struggling to clear any phlegm, try a huff. This is where you breathe out in a short, sharp manner as if you were trying to steam up a mirror.
You should move about as soon as possible after your operation. But while you are not as mobile, try to keep your legs moving to encourage better circulation.
You can do these exercises in a bed or in a chair.
One foot at a time, point your toes away from you then pull your toes towards your chin.
Try to do 10 of these on both feet at least 2-3 times an hour.
The next exercise is circling your ankles. One at a time circle your ankles, clockwise and then anticlockwise. Repeat this 10 times with each ankle 2-3 times an hour.
Some people develop liver problems after surgery. Before you have surgery, you have tests to check how well your liver is working and to check for other liver conditions such as cirrhosis.
Liver problems could include:
- abdominal pain
- nausea and vomiting
- indigestion or heartburn
- problems digesting fatty foods
- liver failure
The team looking after you will monitor you. Let them know if you have any symptoms or feel unwell.
You may have bleeding straight after your operation. This could be because a blood vessel tie is leaking or because your blood is not clotting properly. Bleeding in the few days following surgery can happen because of an infection or a
The treatment you need depends on what is causing the bleeding. Your doctor and nurses will check for signs of bleeding after surgery. You may need a blood transfusion after your operation.
Blood clots (deep vein thrombosis, DVT) are a possible complication of having surgery because you might not move about as much as usual. Clots can block the normal flow of blood through the body. Let your doctor or nurse know if you have an area in your leg that is swollen, hot, red or sore.
There is a risk that a blood clot can become loose and travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, causing a blockage there (a pulmonary embolism). Symptoms include:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- coughing up blood
- feeling dizzy or light headed
To try to prevent blood clots you wear compression stockings after surgery. You also have daily injections for several weeks to thin your blood, and your nurses will encourage you to get up as soon as possible or do regular leg exercises.
You have heart tests before your surgery to make sure your heart is able to cope with the operation. Gallbladder operations can increase the strain on your heart. Some people develop heart problems after surgery that they did not have before.
Your doctor and nurses will check for signs of heart problems after your operation.
Some people who have their gallbladder removed (cholecystectomy) can develop something called post-cholecystectomy syndrome (PCS). This is caused by bile leaking into areas such as the stomach, or by gallstones being left in the bile ducts.
Symptoms can include tummy pain, indigestion, diarrhoea,