The Truth About Gaining Weight After Gallbladder Surgery
Every patient is concerned about the risks of gallbladder surgery, but there has also been a good amount of information disseminated to the public that simply does not jive with reality. One of these is the idea is that somehow you will inevitably gain weight after your gallbladder surgery.
There is little definitive data to suggest that all patients that undergo gallbladder surgery will gain weight after their procedure.1,2 And there is no real medical or scientific basis to support this. However, if you have done research online, you’ll likely find many articles and forums dedicated to those who have gained weight after gallbladder surgery. To understand why this weight gain may occur, we need to explore one of the most basic signs and symptoms of gallbladder disease – extreme reactions to certain foods.
Gallbladder removal surgery is one of the most common general surgeries performed in the United States. And while the gallbladder is not a necessary organ, gallbladder disease can be uncomfortable, painful and even dangerous. That is why patients with confirmed gallbladder problems – usually found through a simple ultrasound – are encouraged to undergo gallbladder surgery as soon as possible to avoid emergency situations and the associated complications.
Gallbladder disease often goes unnoticed for months or even years as patients may only feel minor discomfort or sporadic issues for quite a while. Over time, consciously or subconsciously, patients realize that certain foods do not sit well with them – typically those high in fat. As a result, over the progression of gallbladder disease, patients tend to avoid foods and drinks that cause them the discomfort, pain, nausea or vomiting. By eliminating these foods, patients are actually improving their diet and eliminating a decent number of calories.
At some point down the road, however, their gallbladder disease will be diagnosed. This could be an incidental finding or as result of a severe gallbladder attack that sends them to their primary care physician or a specialist. At this point, the gallbladder is removed in a very simple, minimally invasive procedure that lasts about 30 to 45 minutes. Unlike many other abdominal surgeries, there are very few, if any dietary restrictions after gallbladder surgery and patients are typically able to eat as they wish with minimal discomfort. Immediately after surgery, eating the high-fat foods that once caused gallbladder attacks typically only cause minor G.I. issues. As the liver adapts to the missing gallbladder, even these minor symptoms usually go away.
But wait, I have lost weight since my cholecystectomy…
There are two possible reasons why you may actually lose weight after your gallbladder removal.
If the weight loss occurs immediately after surgery, this is quite normal. First, on the day of and most likely a couple days after surgery, you will not feel up to eating large meals. In fact, a liquid diet – maybe soup – could be all you want in the beginning. Further, the body will have to adjust to its new role without a gallbladder to store bile for digestion. During this adjustment, you may not eat as much as you would normally.
Secondly, you may experience continued gastrointestinal sensitivity to certain foods. This is particularly true for spicy and high fat meals. Large meals may also cause discomfort. While this may present an inconvenience, it becomes a self-limiting factor to over eating. If you know that eating certain foods (typically not the healthy stuff) causes digestive upset, you are more likely to avoid these foods.
Can Gallbladder disease itself cause weight loss?
This is unlikely. Gallbladder disease most often causes weight loss because you are wary of eating certain foods – typically large meals with foods that are high in fat. So, it stands to reason that calorie intake may be reduced. Some follow-on conditions stemming from gallbladder issues could conceivably cause weight gain, but this is not the norm.
So, Why The Weight Gain?
Now that patients have the full spectrum of foods and drinks available to them without the self-limiting concern of a gallbladder attack, there is a tendency to eat some or all of the foods that they had not been able to prior to surgery. Of course, adding these higher fat, less healthy items naturally creates a situation where weight gain is likely.
Just as poor dietary choices may have caused the gallbladder issue in the first place, the same choices may create an environment for weight gain in the future as well. We encourage our patients to use their surgery as a starting point for a healthier lifestyle including better diet and exercise. Following a healthy, nutritious diet and exercising regularly will not only stave off weight gain, but create the potential for long-term weight loss as well.
Further Reading On Gallbladder Surgery:
Reviewed by Dr. Muhammad Feteiha, FACS. Dr. Feteiha is a leading weight loss and general surgeon performing laparoscopic gallbladder removals (also known as cholecystectomies) as standalone procedures or in conjunction with bariatric/weight loss surgery.
1Houghton PW, Donaldson LA, Jenkinson LR, Crumplin MK. Weight gain after cholecystectomy. British Medical Journal (Clinical research ed). 1984;289(6455):1350.
2Ali, R., Cahill, R. & Watson, R. Ir J Med Sci (2004) 173: 9. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02914515
Last edited September 1, 2018Back To All Posts