Gallstones are hardened deposits, usually composed of cholesterol, that can form in your gallbladder. These stones can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball. Many people have tiny gallstones that do not affect them at all. However, if the stones become large, they can block the bile duct, a tube between the liver and gallbladder. This can cause intense pain and can lead to further, more serious problems, such as infection of the gallbladder and pancreatitis. When gallstones become symptomatic, they require treatment
Your doctor may recommend a cholecystectomy, which is the surgical removal of the gallbladder. Most gallbladder surgeries are performed as laparoscopic procedures. This minimally invasive technique allows for smaller incisions and a shorter hospital stay than traditional surgery.
Boulder Community Hospital offers two advanced approaches to treating gallbladder disease:
1) robot-assisted cholecystectomy with the da Vinci® Surgical System -- your surgeon makes just a few small incisions, similar to traditional laparoscopy.
2) da Vinci Single-Site® surgery -- surgeons make one small incision in your belly button to remove your gallbladder, similar to single incision laparoscopy.
Benefits of da Vinci surgery include:
- Significantly less pain
- Potentially less blood loss
- Fewer complications - including reduced risk of infection
- Less scarring – 1-2 cm incisions versus 4-7 inches with open surgery
- Shorter hospital stay
- Quicker recovery from surgery and return to normal routine
The state-of-the-art da Vinci robot allows some complex surgeries to be performed as minimally invasive procedures. Through tiny 1-2 cm incisions, a surgeon using the da Vinci system can operate with precision and control while minimizing the pain that often accompanies the large incisions associated with open surgery. The surgeon uses special hand controls to guide robotic arms that hold specially designed surgical instruments. The latest computer technology converts the surgeon’s large hand movements into precise small movements, resulting in tremendous dexterity. The robotic “wrists” can rotate a full 360 degrees, enabling your surgeon to control the miniature surgical instruments with unprecedented accuracy, flexibility and range of motion. The da Vinci System requires that every surgical maneuver be performed with direct input from your surgeon – the machine cannot move on its own.
The three-dimensional, high definition da Vinci camera supplies your surgeon with a magnified view of the internal organs that’s better than normal vision. The enhanced visualization and greater degree of movement offered by the da Vinci System provides a minimally invasive alternative that offers many advantages for cholecystectomy.
For more information on the da Vinci System’s leading-edge robotic technology, click here.
Contact a general surgeon to find out if robot-assisted surgery may be your best treatment option.
Questions and Answers
What does your gallbladder do?
The gallbladder is a small sac located under the liver that stores and concentrates bile produced by the liver. Bile aids in the digestion of fats, and is released from the gallbladder into the upper small intestine when food enters that tract.
How are gallstones diagnosed?
If your health care provider suspects you have a gallstone, you’ll probably need an ultrasound. This painless and quick test uses sound waves to take images of your gallbladder and determine if there are gallstones.
What are the symptoms of gallstones?
If a gallstone is blocking your bile duct, inflammation can develop. A gallbladder attack is characterized by a cramping pain in the middle to right upper abdomen. Jaundice (yellowing of the skin) can also occur when the bile duct is blocked. Signs and symptoms of gallstones include:
• Pain, usually on the upper right side of the abdomen
• Pain following meals
• Intolerance of fatty foods
• Loss of appetite
Women are at higher risk of developing gallstones than men, and the risk increases the more children a woman has had. (Luckily, the increased risk associated with having children can be offset by breastfeeding.) Women who use hormone replacement therapy are also at higher risk of developing gallstones. Being overweight and yo-yoing weight (rapid weight loss followed by weight gain) are other risk factors for developing gallstones.
What are options for treating gallstones?
Some drugs can dissolve gallstones. However, it can take two years for a stone to dissolve, and gallstones nearly always return soon after. Another traditional option is shock wave therapy (called lithotripsy) that uses sound waves to break a stone into smaller pieces. But gallstones are also likely to reappear following lithotripsy.
Since medications and lithotripsy are typically ineffective, surgery may be the best alternative to treat gallstones. A surgeon can remove the gallbladder using a procedure called a cholecystectomy. A traditional open cholecystectomy is major abdominal surgery in which the surgeon removes the gallbladder through a 4-7 inch incision. Patients usually remain in the hospital overnight and may require several additional weeks to recover at home.
Today, most gallbladder surgeries are performed as laparoscopic procedures. This minimally invasive technique allows for smaller incisions and a shorter hospital stay than traditional surgery.