Gallbladder Surgery: How to Prepare

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Gallbladder surgery (cholecystectomy) is a common surgical procedure that is often done to address gallstones or cholecystitis. There are several types of gallbladder surgery, which may determine where it is performed and whether it requires a hospital stay. Learn more about preparing for gallbladder surgery.


Preoperative Visit

If there are any options to be considered for your surgery (such as open surgery, laparoscopic surgery, and robotic-assisted surgery), each type will be explained during your pre-op (before the surgery) visit.

The primary difference between laparoscopic surgery and robotic surgery is the degree to which the instruments can be manipulated. There is a higher range of motion and increased dexterity offered by the robotic technology, allowing surgeons to access hard to reach places.

Once you understand the type of procedure you will be having, you will sign a pre-authorization form, agreeing that you understand what type of surgery you are going to have and that you consent to having the procedure. During the preoperative visit, you will be told what to do before, during, and after your surgery, such as:

  • Take a shower the night before the procedure or the morning of your surgery (perhaps using a special type of antibiotic soap.
  • Abstain from shaving the abdominal area before surgery
  • Avoid food and fluids before the surgery (including how many hours before surgery to stop eating and how many hours beforehand to stop drinking fluids)

During the preoperative visit, the surgeon or another healthcare provider will ensure that the preoperative tests (such as blood and urine tests) as well as a physical exam have all been done and that the results are within normal limits.

prepare for gallbladder surgery
Chris Hondros / Staff / Getty Images

Surgery Location

Gallbladder surgery may be performed in the hospital, or it could be scheduled at an outpatient center. If the type of surgery you are going to have is a simple gallbladder removal (such as a laparoscopic or a robotic-assisted procedure) it may be scheduled in an outpatient surgical center.

An open cholecystectomy or a radical cholecystectomy (performed to remove cancer of the gallbladder) would likely be scheduled in a hospital operating room (OR).

Ambulatory surgery (also known as outpatient surgery or same-day surgery) allows a person to go home the same day they have a surgical procedure done. With the advances in medical technology, anesthesia, and pain control, many procedures—including minimally invasive gallbladder surgery—are being performed on an outpatient basis these days.

Nearly 1.2 million cholecystectomy procedures are performed every year in the U.S. and approximately 80% of elective surgeries could be done using robotic-assisted technology.

What to Wear

You will be given a hospital gown to put on before the procedure. A change of clothes for when you go home should be included on your “what to bring to the surgical center” list.

Be aware that there may be complications that occur during the surgery that require an overnight stay (and may possibly involve more than one overnight).

Complications that require a surgeon to switch to an open procedure are rare; but in 5 out of every 100 laparoscopic gallbladder surgeries, the surgeon must change the procedure to an open surgical method (which requires a longer recovery time).

Food and Drink

Stop eating and drinking when the healthcare provider advises you to as part of the preoperative (before surgery) instructions. Usually, a person will be instructed to withhold any food or fluids the night before surgery at a specified time (which is often at least four or more hours before the procedure).


When preparing for gallbladder surgery, it’s important to share with your healthcare provider the names and dosages of each type of medication you are taking. This should include a list of any natural or herbal supplements, vitamins, and over-the-counter medications. Your healthcare provider will let you know if any of your medications should be stopped before the surgery (and when to stop taking them). 

Medications such as aspirin, heparin, Coumadin (warfarin) and other blood thinners that could cause bleeding during and after the procedure should be stopped before surgery. Other medications may interact adversely with the anesthesia.

Be aware that some medications (such as blood thinners) must be discontinued weeks before your surgery, so be sure to talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible. If you are instructed to take all (or some) of your medications the morning of the surgery, you will be instructed to take them with a very small sip of water.

Medication During Surgery

As part of the preoperative instructions, to help you prepare for surgery, the surgeon, anesthesiologist, or other healthcare provider will talk to you about anesthesia (a state of controlled, temporary loss of sensation that is induced for pain control).

This includes the types of anesthesia that are available and the risks and benefits of each. Be sure to alert your healthcare provider if you have had an allergic reaction to any type of anesthesia in the past.

What to Bring

If you have unanswered questions about what will happen before, during, or after surgery, including the exact procedure you will be having, risks, benefits, and alternative options (if there are any), be sure to write your questions down and bring the list with you the day of the surgery.

Make a list of all the personal items you want to bring (including extra pajamas or comfortable clothing) to prepare in case you have to stay longer than planned. If you have valuables (such as expensive jewelry) it’s probably safest to leave those at home.

Be sure to remember these items when preparing to go to the outpatient clinic or hospital for your gallbladder surgery:

  • Insurance card
  • Identification (such as a driver's license)
  • Advance directives (legal documents that allow you to put in writing your decisions about end-of-life care ahead of time)
  • List of medications
  • Loose-fitting, comfortable clothes
  • Slip-on shoes or slippers that don't require bending over to put on

Don’t forget to arrange—in advance—to bring someone with you to drive you home after the gallbladder surgery. Ask a relative or a friend to stay with you at least the first night after the surgery, just in case any complications arise.

When to Call the Healthcare Provider (Before Surgery)

You should call the healthcare provider before the surgical procedure when:

  • You have any questions or concerns about the surgical procedure
  • You have questions about how to prepare for the surgery (such as when to stop eating food and drinking fluids)
  • You come down with symptoms (such as a fever, the flu, or a cold) or other signs of illness before the surgery
  • You change your mind about having the procedure done
  • You need to reschedule the surgery

Pre-Op Lifestyle Changes

It’s important to focus on a healthy diet and lifestyle before your surgery. Changes are best when implemented several weeks before the surgery because the body may react adversely to sudden changes.

Be sure to eat a healthy diet and stay as active as you can before gallbladder surgery. If you are a smoker and you can’t quit smoking, at least try to cut back. It’s also important to eliminate or cut back on alcohol consumption before the surgical procedure.

Quitting smoking is one lifestyle change that is highly recommended before surgery. Smoking may cause many complications during and after surgery, these include:

  • Breathing problems during or after surgery
  • A greater risk of pneumonia (compared to non-smokers)
  • A higher likeliness you will need a ventilator (a machine that breathes for you) after surgery
  • A higher risk of infection and slower healing process
  • A greater risk of heart attack during or after surgery.

Although the earlier you quit smoking the better, according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, “Quitting smoking even the day before your surgery can lower your risk of complications."

A Word From Verywell

If you have advance directives in place, be sure to let your healthcare provider know before the surgery. Advance directives are legal guidelines that you outline in advance, proclaiming what type of care you want in case of an emergency medical situation that renders you unable to make end-of-life decisions for yourself.

For example, if you stop breathing, do you want advanced medical intervention (such as to be put on a ventilator), do you want to be tube fed if you become unconscious, and more. Advance directives also denote who can make legal decisions for you if you should become incapacitated.

If you don’t have an advance directive care plan yet, it may be a good idea to look into it before your surgery. Healthcare providers recommend that everyone should be prepared with advance directives, regardless of what type of condition is being treated or surgery they are having.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lee Health. General surgery: Outpatient.

  2. Beaumont Health Robotic Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy procedure.

  3. UW Health Information. Laparoscopic gallbladder surgery for gallstones

  4. My Health Cholecystectomy: Before your surgery.  

  5. American Society of Anesthesiologists. Risks: Smoking.

By Sherry Christiansen
Sherry Christiansen is a medical writer with a healthcare background. She has worked in the hospital setting and collaborated on Alzheimer's research.