I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this – “I got my gallbladder removed, even though I didn’t want to, but I’m still having gallbladder pain after removal.” “They told me the surgery would fix it, but…” Yup. Sometimes the surgery doesn’t actually make the pain disappear, so now what? Good news, there is a lot you can do about this, but it helps to know exactly what you’re dealing with.
How Could I still Have Gallbladder Pain After Removal?
There can be many causes for this, but the simple version is that typically when the gallbladder is removed, all or part of the duct work stays behind. Therein lies the typical culprit.
Here are the four “S’s” of gallbladder pain after removal:
- Stones – Sometimes there are still gallstones, or small calcified spots left in the remaining ducts or even in the ducts from the liver that head towards the (now missing) gallbladder. These hurt just as much as the stones in the gallbladder itself.
- Sludge – There can be sludge still in the remaining ducts, even if the stones are gone.
- Steatosis – If there have been gallbladder issues for a long time sometimes the liver becomes fatty. Fatty liver, also called “hepatic steatosis” can have no symptoms, or it can feel a whole lot like gallbladder pain – especially the low-grade, chronic type that doesn’t flare up strongly but doesn’t go away either.
- Something else – Remember you can have fleas and ticks on the same dog. Remember gallbladder, and your other internal organs, don’t have sensory nerves the way your fingertips do because you’re not supposed to be reaching out and touching anything with your gallbladder. This is part of why people can feel gallbladder pain so differently – for some it’s classically under the right rib cage, for some it’s between the shoulder-blades, for some it’s on the left side, for some it’s just nausea and for some it mimics a heart attack. It can happen that you have “gallbladder pain,” the doctor finds gallstones, you remove the gallbladder and there’s still something else that was actually causing the pain to begin with.
Now it feels like we’re back at square one, right? You did the surgery, but the problem is the same. So now what?
Stopping Gallbladder Pain After Surgery
- Talk to Your Doctor. Step 1 really should be a follow up ultrasound to see if there are any stones remaining. This will give you a good idea of what you’re working with.
- Work on Gallbladder Sludge. This is the most common cause of ongoing pain and working on cleaning out your remaining sludge will help clear those ducts and also helps with a gentle liver detox. Really working on this should bring improvement within a month. If it doesn’t, or if your symptoms get worse then skip straight to step 4. There’s a whole post on supporting your gallbladder as well as one on liver health below.
- Give your Liver Some Love. This can be done at the same time as step 3 – each one helps the other so that you get the best results if you’re supporting your liver and clearing out sludge at the same time.
- Get Your Doctor on Board. You have lots of vital organs in your abdomen and we don’t really want to see any of them in trouble. If your symptoms are not getting better, if they’re getting worse, or if your gut is telling you that there’s more going on then talk with your doctor. There can be hernias, pancreatitis, infections, tumors and other problems that your body can only tell you about in so many ways so don’t ignore symptoms just because you got your gallbladder removed.
It can be easy to get discouraged, but you’re still on the right track. The surgery sometimes isn’t an instant fix, but you’re still moving forward – just follow the steps and trust your gut. If you feel like there’s something bigger going on then talk to your doctor. Otherwise give your liver and ducts a little pampering and you’ll be good as new in no time.