Gallbladder Removal and IBS—Is There a Link?

Gallbladder Removal and IBS—Is There a Link?

Recently, many of our community members have been wondering if there is a link between gallbladder removal and IBS. Whether it’s the development of IBS post-removal, or the worsening of previous IBS symptoms, there are many questions surrounding these two entities. Current literature is pretty scarce when it comes to investigating IBS and gallbladder removal surgery (also known as a cholecystectomy). The results that have been found, are often contradictory. However, we were able to gather some more information, even though this mystery isn’t fully solved.

What is the gallbladder? When does it need to be removed?

The gallbladder is often thought of as an unnecessary organ, with little value to the body, since, in theory, we can function fine without it. However, the gallbladder does have some serious functions. Bile, which helps in digesting fats, is made in the liver. This liquid is shuttled to the gallbladder, where it is stored for future use. This prevents the body from releasing too much bile if it’s not needed, and also, protects the rest of the digestive system from its potentially harmful effects. Although it’s in the upper abdomen, and shielded by the liver, the gallbladder can certainly impact the rest of the digestive system beyond its location, including the large intestine.

Gallbladder attacks, also known as biliary colic, can occur when there are problems with the gallbladder. Problems with the gallbladder can be indicated by symptoms like bloating after meals with high fat content, nausea after meals, and pain in the middle or right side of the abdomen. Gallstones can also become lodged in the gallbladder causing radiating pain through the abdomen and back. These kinds of issues often point towards surgical removal of the entire gallbladder itself.1,2

How does the gallbladder relate to IBS?

There hasn’t been a strongly proven link that gallbladder issues are more common in individuals with IBS, however, there could be a link to developing IBS or worsening IBS symptoms afterwards. Current theories center around the unpredictable, and corrosive nature of bile to the digestive system. This includes the potential of developing worsening IBS symptoms, or symptoms that mimic IBS, without any previous history with the condition. Medications are on the market to treat newly developed symptoms that mock IBS, but this isn’t necessarily the case for individuals with true IBS that worsens post-procedure.

Without an organ to store excess bile, these acids are now released to the rest of the body to cause chaos. Since IBS can occasionally develop after intestinal trauma, such as dysentery, pregnancy, or surgeries, it doesn’t seem to be a far stretch to include gallbladder removal procedures into that list.

One specific study looked at the overall quality of life changes after gallbladder removal. Although no mention of history of IBS was mentioned in the participants, the results indicated that even in previously healthy controls, many gastrointestinal issues arose or were worsened post-procedure, including bloating, bowel urgency, flatus, nausea, regurgitation, heartburn, and abdominal pain, among others. Non-gastrointestinal related issues seemed to improve for the study population, such as sexual life, physical strength, leisure activity abilities, and relationships. However, if gastrointestinal issues seemed to suffer after gallbladder removal for those without IBS, it would seem logical that this trend would remain the same, if not stronger, for those already experiencing or prone to these issues beforehand.3

As mentioned earlier, much more research needs to be conducted to strengthen or disprove the potential link between IBS and gallbladder removal surgery. However, for now, it is certainly a topic of discussion. Let us know if you’ve had your gallbladder removed, and if it has impacted your IBS in any way!

View References
  1. Bolen, Barbara. “IBS and gallbladder problems.” VeryWell. 26 Oct 2016. Available from: https://www.verywell.com/ibs-and-gallbladder-problems-1945196
  2. “Irritable bowel syndrome and the gall bladder.” IBS Treatment Center. 2015. Available from: https://ibstreatmentcenter.com/2012/10/irritable-bowel-syndrome-and-the-gall-bladder.html
  3. Wanjura V, Sandblom G. “How do quality-of-life and gastrointestinal symptoms differ between post-cholecystectomy patients and the background population.” World Journal of Surgery. 29 Aug 2015. doi: 10.1007/s00268-015-3240-0

Comments

View Comments (9)
  • Eyebye
    6 months ago

    As an IBS sufferer for 40 years I truly know what its like to live like this. 6 weeks ago I had my gallbladder removed and knew because of the IBS I may recover slower. Well my diet is now more restricted, the cramping, which I had under control for years has returned with a vengeance, both upper and lower abdominal area and have no appetite at all. Knowing I have additional autoimmune issues on top of this, I knew recovery would take longer. Looking for insight or anyone’s feedback if they experienced this and any relief they found. Doctors offering antispasmodics said all MRI and CT look normal. So here I am

  • ashleytaylor35
    6 months ago

    I am 35yrs old. I had my gallbladder removed when I was 18, My mom; now 76 had hers removed when she was 23, my grandmother who has now passed on had her gallbladder removed at 19 and my sister had hers removed as well when she was 22. Everyone one of us since having our gallbladder removed had some sort of degree of IBS. My mom and sister being the worst. I truly believe that there is a link between Gallbladder removal and IBS. Not to mention I can not eat a lot of greasy foods it will make me look like I have a nasty stomach virus.

  • Susieoo9fl
    8 months ago

    Had my Gall Bladder removed 15yrs ago. No problem. 6months ago I started having a bile overload. Green stools. My Dr put me on a rx. All tests were good. He said it would subside in time. Anybody experience this?

  • Jaykay
    11 months ago

    I had my gallbladder removed 2003, i was only 24. At the time no big problems with my bowel movements other than constipation. After surgery its become amost a bi-weekly thing, ive had two babies and the pain is so very similar….on the potty for 30 mins sweating taking deep breaths, feel like ill pass out. It comes in waves of contractions texture and unfortunately smells!! Its extremely embarrassing. Im completely exhausted after.

  • Besjordan
    1 year ago

    My life has been a nightmare since my gallbladder was removed in March of 2016. For me the primary issue has been unrelenting nausea. My Dr. felt the issue was too much stomach acid & prescribed multiple meds. I was finally referred to a GI Dr. & was diagnosed with IBS in Dec. I have found a low FODMAP diet which was helping. During the work up I had, the tests revealed that I had E-Coli & C-Diff. The antibiotics are wrecking havoc with my GI system. I feel like my life has been 2 steps forward 3 steps back since 2016.

  • Kelly Dabel moderator
    1 year ago

    Thank you for sharing your story Besjordan. You have been through so much! Sorry that you are dealing with nausea on top of it all. Glad to hear that you’ve found some relief through changing your diet. Wishing you continued relief. In addition to speaking with your doctor, this article may be helpful to you: https://irritablebowelsyndrome.net/clinical/can-nausea-be-a-symptom-of-ibs/. Best, Kelly, Irritablebowelsyndrome.net Team Member

  • Caren
    1 year ago

    I had mine out. I also feel that my gi has never been the same. I feel that my IBS started after a severe intestinal illness which was like dysentery. The Viberse medication which is supposed to help with IBS isn’t for people who have had their gallbladder removed. It’s also not covered under my prescription benefit & is insanely expensive and out of reach even if I didn’t have my GB out 🙁

  • ptm215
    2 years ago

    I already had IBS when I had my gallbladder removed. However, after the surgery the IBS was much worse. As a teacher, I was afraid I would make it through class, sometimes having to pull a monitor from the hall to cover while I used the restroom. My doctor added Welchol to help control the bile. It was better, but this is more than 15 years ago, I am still struggling with symptoms. Major stress of caring for two parents as they progressed through Alzheimer’s and passed away put an incredible strain on my system. My dad just died a year ago, my IBS has been so bad I’ve been hospitalized once for five days and was on morphine to try to stop my system completely. Great way to loose 50 pounds in 2 months. I’m still not better. I’ve just decided to switch doctors. I’m feeling like it is so hard to get an appointment with the first one, that they really can’t take care of me. I’m hoping a fresh perspective will help.

  • Chris Hall moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi ptm215,

    I’m so sorry to hear about your parents. That must have been incredibly difficult to go through. I can totally understand how that kind of stress must have wreaked havoc on your IBS. We understand your frustration about doctors––many folks from the community here have expressed the same about not receiving adequate care.

    Many people with IBS gain varying degrees of symptom control through diet management. Have you heard of the low-FODMAP diet? FODMAPs are types of carbohydrates that have been shown to trigger IBS symptoms. This diet aims to eliminate those carbs. Here’s more information about that diet and diet management:

    https://irritablebowelsyndrome.net/ibs-diet/
    https://irritablebowelsyndrome.net/living/making-low-fodmap-diet-easier/

    Additionally, some folks have found that seeing a registered dietitian to be beneficial. When researching dietitians in your area, you can ask if they are FODMAP certified, or have specific strategies for those suffering from IBS. I hope this helps! Thanks for being part of the community!

    Take care,
    Chris, IrritableBowelSyndrome.net Team Member

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