What is a gallbladder attack?

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Via Christi Clinic surgeon Kyle Vincent, MD, answers questions about treating diseased gallbladders.

Q: What is a gallbladder attack?
A: This common condition is often caused by a gallstone — a stone that forms in the gallbladder from cholesterol. The gallbladder is shaped like a funnel and when a stone gets stuck in the end of the funnel, the gallbladder tries to squeeze it out. That’s what causes the pain of a gallbladder attack.

Q: Why do gallstones form?
A: We are not entirely sure why they form, but we think it has to do with a hormonal imbalance. That’s why gallbladder attacks are more prevalent in women who’ve had children and in people over age 40. But anyone is susceptible.

Q: What does the gallbladder do?
A: This organ stores bile, which is made by the liver to help digest fat. When you eat fatty foods, the gallbladder squeezes bile into the intestines. If a gallstone is there, that can cause pain, which is why many gallbladder attacks are started by eating fatty foods. However, doctors don’t believe you need a gallbladder for normal healthy living.

Q: What are the symptoms of a gallbladder attack?
A: Attacks can range from fairly mild to severe. If the stone is tightly wedged in the outlet of the bladder, you can have pain that is intense. Usually, the pain occurs in the middle of the abdomen and then up the right side. Sometimes the pain will radiate to the back or right shoulder. That’s why gallbladder attacks can sometimes be misinterpreted as a heart attack.

Q: Can you treat symptoms of a gallbladder attack?
A: There are no medicines to keep you from getting gallstones. The only treatment is surgically removing the diseased gallbladder. If it is not removed, the symptoms can recur when you eat fatty foods.

Q: What are the surgical options?
A: Traditionally, the gallbladder was removed through a large incision under the right ribs. In the 1990s, we began removing the gallbladder laparoscopically, which requires four small incisions across the abdomen. Most recently we’ve started using Single-SiteTM da Vinci® Surgery to remove gallbladders through a single 1-inch incision directly in the center of the belly button.

Q: How long does the surgery take and how long is recovery?
A: A normal gallbladder surgery usually takes about an hour and is normally done on an outpatient basis. You’re able to walk right after surgery. Most of the time people can return to work in about a week.

Q: Are there any diet restrictions after surgery?
A: For the first two weeks, you have to be careful of eating high-fat foods. After that, there are no diet restrictions. The vast majority of patients do not have any long-term problems.


At first, Darcy Roulston ignored the dull pain radiating from her right side after she ate.

Over several months the pain grew worse, making her nauseated, keeping her up all night and sending her to her family physician, Charles Green, MD, of Via Christi Clinic on Andover Road.

An ultrasound confirmed what Dr. Green suspected: Darcy was having gallbladder attacks, caused by gallstones.

Dr. Green referred her to surgeon Kyle Vincent, MD, who specializes in removing diseased gallbladders with the da Vinci Robotic Surgical System.

After a reassuring visit with Dr. Vincent, Darcy underwent the surgery in February 2013.

“Robotic surgery is great because it’s less invasive and your recovery time is much quicker,” says the busy wife and mother of four children, ages 11-23. “My life is back to normal with no side effects. The procedure is so simple that once you have it done you’ll be glad. You’ll feel so much better.”


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