The Gallbladder & How it Affects Digestion
Your gallbladder is a 4-inch-long, pear-shaped organ connected to your liver at the upper right side of your abdomen. Its main job is to store bile from your liver and release it into your small intestine to help break down food. If your gallbladder becomes infected, develops stones, or begins to dysfunction your surgeon may recommend gallbladder removal. This procedure is known as cholecystectomy. Although the gallbladder is not a vital organ, it plays an important role in digestion.
Without your gallbladder, bile flows freely into your small intestine which can have a laxative effect for a time. You may also have some trouble digesting fatty foods until your body adjusts. How people digest food following gallbladder removal is extremely variable person to person.
What Changes Should You Expect?
Some people may experience no physical changes, since their gallbladder wasn't working optimally to begin with.
The average person can expect to experience diarrhea, bloating, and some discomfort for the first month following gallbladder removal especially after eating greasy, fatty, and spicy foods. It is possible but less common for other types of foods to cause diarrhea such as sweets and lettuce.
More uncommonly, some may notice significant and lasting changes. Talk with your doctor if your diarrhea doesn't gradually go away or becomes more severe, or if you lose weight and become weak. Your doctor may recommend medicines, such as loperamide (Imodium A-D), which slows down intestinal movement, or medications that decrease the laxative effect of bile, such as cholestyramine (Prevalite). Your doctor may also suggest that you take a multivitamin to compensate for malabsorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
Diet Tips from CSA Surgical Center Staff
Low-fat foods are those with no more than 3 grams of fat a serving. Check labels and follow the serving size listed.
Take your time re-introducing greasy, fatty and spicy foods back into your diet. For the first several weeks, stick to a bland diet consisting of soups, sandwiches, pasta, potatoes, toast and applesauce. SLOWLY reintroduce fatty and spicy foods into your diet. The amount of fat you eat at one time can play a big role in limiting uncomfortable symptoms. Smaller amounts of fat are easier to digest, while larger amounts can remain undigested and cause gas, bloating and diarrhea.
Limit foods that tend to worsen diarrhea. Caffeine contains acids that can cause your stomach to make more acid and drain faster. This can lead to stomach pain and discomfort after having gallbladder removed. Caffeine, chocolate, dairy products, and very sweet, sugary foods can worsen diarrhea.
Choose fat-free yogurt and low-fat cheese options or versions that contain dairy alternatives, such as almond milk.
Eat small meals throughout the day. Having large amounts of food at once can cause gas and bloating, so split up your meals. Try eating five to six small meals a day that are a few hours apart. Snack on nutrient-dense, low-fat, high-protein foods in between meals.
Be prepared for situations in which you may find yourself eating something that you shouldn't. You should avoid reintroducing fatty and spicy foods in a restaurant setting, but if you do make sure you locate the nearest restroom in advance.
Ramp up consuming fiber in your diet. This can help normalize bowel movements. Once you are through the first month of recovery begin to add soluble fiber, such as oats and barley, to your diet. But be sure to increase the amount of fiber slowly, such as over several weeks, because too much fiber at first can make gas and cramping worse. Since you'll be recovering from surgery and needing more fiber, try to incorporate as many nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables into your diet as possible.
The following are healthy sources of fiber and many other nutrients, such as calcium, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids:
- potatoes with skin
- whole grain bread, pasta, rice, and cereal
- raw nuts (not roasted in oils), such as almonds, walnuts, and cashews
- raw seeds, such as hemp, chia, and poppy seeds
- sprouted grains, nuts, and seeds
- fruits and vegetables
Making some slight adjustments to your diet after having your gallbladder removed will go a long way in making your recovery smoother! The dietary changes recommended after gallbladder removal are helpful for most people with or without a gallbladder.
Life After Gallbladder Surgery
For more tips on how to prepare for your upcoming surgery, day of and post-operative care, click here.