Second Opinion

Dear Dr. Gott: I am a 50-year-old male. I recently had my gallbladder removed.
Could you explain what the symptoms of this condition are? Could the problem have been taken care of without surgery, and what are the two types of surgery used?
I don’t know why I had my gallbladder removed, how it was removed and what symptoms I had that indicated it was my gallbladder that was the problem. Is gallbladder-removal surgery serious?

Dear Reader: When I got your letter, I sat rather dumbfounded at my desk for several minutes and had to reread it four or five times to make sure that what I was reading was really what you wrote.
I am thoroughly shocked that you do not even know what your symptoms were! You should never have had surgery without first running the gamut of nonsurgical options, especially without even knowing why you were having it!
Physicians are not gods. The world does not stop and start when they say so. Doctors are human beings who can make mistakes. That includes occasionally overtreating a patient. This is becoming common because many patients have Internet access and convince themselves they know what they have and how they need to be treated even before seeing the doctor. Not only is this unwise, but it can be dangerous because some people may delay medical treatment when they believe they have a minor, harmless condition. The reverse is also true: Some may be convinced they have a horrendous condition when in fact they have something minor and curable.
I am not saying that people cannot research and learn more, but it should be done only after a diagnosis has been made or with an open mind that they may be wrong.
That being said, I will now discuss gallbladder disease. I can only give generalizations about common symptoms, treatments and prognosis.
There are several types of gallbladder disease, but the most common are sludge and stones.
Gallbladder sludge is just that — thick, sticky bile that does not empty properly. Stones are caused by various minerals and crystals that build up and harden into stone-like objects that can block bile from leaving the gallbladder.
Symptoms can include nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, changes in bowel movements and much more. Treatment is based on cause. Nonsurgical methods include lithotripsy, which uses sound waves to break the stones, medication to reduce crystal formation and others. Surgical procedures can be done to remove the stones or the entire gallbladder, as is often the case for people with severe symptoms caused by sludge.
Gallbladder surgery is fairly common and generally safe. Some people experience symptoms even after the gallbladder has been removed. Most recover completely. The most common type of surgery is laparoscopy, which is less invasive, using three very small incisions, and requires less healing time. Traditional surgery involves a large incision and is often used only when laparoscopy is not appropriate.
If you require surgery, make sure you know all the facts and have exhausted all other treatment options first. If your doctor refuses to let you ask questions, change to someone else who will listen.
I recommend you return to your doctor to find out why you had surgery and express your disappointment in their failure to inform you properly. You, however, are also to blame for not stepping up and asking questions. Patients who follow doctors’ advice blindly are setting themselves up for problems.

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