What is the gallbladder?

The gallbladder is a small, sac-like organ that sits under the liver on the right side of your abdomen (belly). The gallbladder stores a greenish-brown fluid called bile. Bile is made and released by the liver and then sent to the small intestine. There, it helps the body break down and absorb food. Bile moves through a network of tube-like structures called bile ducts.

Bile duct injuries are damage to the bile ducts that happen during gallbladder surgery. A bile duct can get cut, burned, or pinched. As a result of an injury, the bile duct will not be able to work right, leaking bile into the abdomen or blocking the normal flow of bile. Bile duct injuries lead to symptoms that can be painful, even deadly, if not treated.

How common are bile duct injuries during gallbladder surgery?

The numbers vary by study. Some estimate that bile duct injuries occur in one in 1,000 cases of laparoscopic gallbladder surgery. They occur less often in open surgeries.

Why would I need gallbladder surgery?

Sometimes, small, hard masses called gallstones form inside the gallbladder. These stones can cause swelling, pain, and infection. They can also damage the gallbladder. Gallstone disease is one of the most common digestive system disorders. It is the most common reason for gallbladder surgery. Surgery to remove a diseased gallbladder is called a cholecystectomy. You can live without a gallbladder, but you might need to make some changes in your diet.

A common type of gallbladder surgery, called laparoscopic cholecystectomy, is done through a few small cuts in the abdomen. For this type of surgery, a camera and light are attached to a scope and are placed into one of the small cuts. The camera projects a live-action video of the inside of the abdomen onto a screen near the surgical table. The doctor looks at the screen and uses the video to guide his or her movements. The doctor then takes out the gallbladder with surgical tools placed in the other small cuts. Benefits of laparoscopic cholecystectomy over open surgery include less pain, less time in the hospital and quicker recovery. It is now considered the “gold standard” for surgical treatment of gallbladder disease.

What causes bile duct injuries during gallbladder surgery?

Most bile duct injuries that occur during gallbladder surgery happen because the area around the gallbladder and bile ducts is masked in some way so that the doctor cannot see it clearly. This can happen if the area’s structure (anatomy) is different than normal, or if there is a lot of bleeding, swelling, or scarring in the area.

How will I know if I have a bile duct injury?

Some bile duct injuries are found by the doctor at the time of surgery. If not, the first sign of a bile duct injury is failing to recover quickly after the procedure. Other symptoms might include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • General discomfort
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes)

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