The gallbladder is a small sac under the liver that stores and concentrates bile, a fluid that helps the body digest fats. After a meal, the gallbladder contracts and releases bile through the common bile duct into the small intestine. A common but major problem with the gallbladder occurs when a gallstone becomes stuck in the cystic duct (the tube that carries bile from the gallbladder) and blocks fluid from passing out of the gallbladder resulting in an irritated and swollen gallbladder. This condition is called cholecystitis. When this occurs your doctor may recommend the surgical removal of your gallbladder.

Surgery to remove the gallbladder (called a cholecystectomy) occurs about 750,000 times per year in the United States. More and more of these surgeries are conducted laparoscopically – using a laparoscope through several small incisions in the abdomen. It is a “blind” surgical procedure since the surgeon only visualizes the gallbladder and accompanying structures via the scope.

Unfortunately, way too many complications occur with this procedure when the surgeon mis-identifies the patient’s anatomy and cuts the wrong structures. Recently, a number of prominent surgeons, including a review in the current Journal of the American College of Surgeons, have called for greater use of a special type of x-ray called a cholangiogram. This special x-ray helps surgeons correctly identify the gallbladder and all adjacent structures and organs thereby reducing the likelihood of surgical errors. A special group of surgeons who perform gallbladder surgeries, The Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons (SAGES) has also recommended these x-rays as a way to reduce the risk of surgical error.

Read more from the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

Read the position statement by SAGES.

Does your surgeon use cholangiograms? Better ask?

Dan Frith
Dan Frith

Dan Frith has over 25 years of experience representing individuals and families in cases of medical malpractice throughout Virginia. He has been named "Best Medical Malpractice Attorney" by Roanoker Magazine and is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. To speak with Dan, contact him by email at dfrith@frithlawfirm.com.