Living Without a Gallbladder: Long Term Effects

gallbladder removal

TLDR: Can you live without a gallbladder? Yes! I’ve been living without one since 2012.

A lot of articles about living without a gallbladder go through the basics of what your body does initially post surgery. So I want to go deeper into how I live without a gallbladder 8+ years later!

Ultimately, I do believe that life without a gallbladder still affects my IBS, and does cause some problems. But it’s manageable.

This is a side note on my IBS journey. The time in my life when my gallbladder was removed, in hopes that it would help with my stomach ailments. So let’s get into it:

About the Gallbladder

digestive tract

The gallbladder is not necessary for digesting food, but it makes it easier. The gallbladder’s job is to concentrate and release bile into your small intestine.

This bile is made in the liver, and with a health working gallbladder, that bile is released into the small intestine when food is eaten. The concentration allows it to work better for fatty foods, allowing us to digest all the greasy snacks we eat. Without a gallbladder, the bile is continuously flowing from the liver to the small intestine, at a less concentrated rate. This makes it harder to digest fats. 

Immediately after Removal

I had mine removed in July 2012. The surgery went well, they did two small incisions – one in my belly button and one a few inches above that was barely a hole, for scope and removal sites. I stayed in the hospital overnight.

I wasn’t hungry after the surgery, which they were surprised by. Later I realized that something they probably had me hooked up to was corny and that always stagnates my hunger. Painkillers do the same, so in hindsight it’s not surprising I wasn’t eating much. 

There was some pain after. I was worried about moving too much, so I mostly sat in a chair that was easy to get in and out of in front of the TV. It took about a week for me to start feeling better.

The external stitches were the dissolvable type and they had just covered them in glue to keep it easy for me. I was back to swimming in a pool the week after my surgery. I can barely see the scar now, because it’s hidden in my navel.

How I Live Without A Gallbladder Long Term

Everything I’ve read says that your body is supposed to regulate and be able to digest those fatty foods after a few years. My experience is that, even 9 years later, I really have to watch my fat content intake. Otherwise I have issues with my bowel movements.

I did have a dietician suggest I could take a supplement to help with the digestion of fatty foods, but after a while it seemed it wasn’t doing enough, and I should just clean up my diet.

I’ve been vegetarian on and off for 5 years (consistently for 3) and that’s the main thing that helps. Meat is a lot higher fat than vegetables, so I could see it when I ate a high fat meal. With that in mind, I do still keep to a low-fat diet in with the vegetarian, so most of my meals I cook from scratch with as little added fat as possible.

It does restrict my diet a bit, but nothing compared to all of the other digestive problems I have going on, so it’s not major in comparison.

olive oil
Image from Pixabay

The highest fat items that I eat currently include avocado, nut butter, and added oils like olive oil to home baked fries or stir fries.

Other Thoughts

How I live without a gallbladder has become second nature, although getting down to a low fat diet was kind of frustrating. Occasionally I can see oil in my BM’s and that’s how I know I’ve had too much oil.

I also occasionally get phantom pain where the gallbladder was. I have no idea what it is or why it occurs, but sometimes I feel pain where it used to be that’s sharp, but only will last for a moment.

The final thing – I was really young when I had my gallbladder removed (16), and it was because they saw thicker sludge in it that shouldn’t have been and it wouldn’t lessen. So it was removed in a scheduled manner and I didn’t have complications from the surgery. I did recently get diagnosed with Gilbert’s syndrome and that can eventually lead to complications with your gallbladder.

I hope this has helped and eases your thoughts on how to live without a gallbladder! It is manageable, especially with a diet change.