Open Cholecystectomy

Article Author:
Mark Jones

Article Editor:
Jeffrey Deppen

Editors In Chief:
Marie Amma
Jennifer Barrow
Darcy Duncan

Managing Editors:
Avais Raja
Orawan Chaigasame
Carrie Smith
Abdul Waheed
Khalid Alsayouri
Trevor Nezwek
Radia Jamil
Patrick Le
Anoosh Zafar Gondal
Saad Nazir
William Gossman
Hassam Zulfiqar
Steve Bhimji
John Shell
Matthew Varacallo
Heba Mahdy
Ahmad Malik
Sarosh Vaqar
Mark Pellegrini
James Hughes
Beata Beatty
Nazia Sadiq
Hajira Basit
Phillip Hynes
Tehmina Warsi

2/22/2019 6:43:49 PM


Gallbladder disease is one of the most common procedures done in the United States with more than 1.2 million cholecystectomies done annually. Before 1991, an open technique was the standard procedure for cholecystectomy. This usually included performing an intraoperative cholangiogram, and patients usually had a 2 to 6-day postoperative in-house stay. With the advent of laparoscopic surgery and the laparoscopic cholecystectomy in the early 1990s, the gold standard for cholecystectomy has changed to a laparoscopic approach. This method showed a 30% increase in the overall performance of elective cholecystectomies. Today, 92% of all cholecystectomies are done laparoscopically. There are several indications in performing open cholecystectomies, and this procedure remains an important part of training for the general surgery resident.

With the advent of laparoscopic cholecystectomies in the 1990s, CBD injuries increased by three to ten times. The injury rate dropped to 0.3% but has remained the same despite better training, preventative maneuvers, and equipment. Laparoscopic CBD injuries are typically more complex. [1]


The anatomy of the biliary tree remains one of the most variant areas of the body. The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ that is affixed to the undersurface of segments IVB and V of the liver. It has no capsule. There is a slight outpouching of the distal gallbladder called Hartman's Pouch which tapers distally to the cystic duct which contains Valves of Heister. The cystic duct joins the bile duct at the confluence of the common hepatic (proximal) and common bile (distal) ducts. The common bile duct empties into the duodenum at the Ampulla Vater. The Sphincter of Oddi controls the flow of bile into the duodenum. The proximal common hepatic duct branches into the left and right hepatic radicals in the liver. These radicals eventually branch into smaller intrahepatic ducts. There may be small ducts that traverse directly into the gallbladder from the gallbladder bed of the liver, called the Ducts of Luschka, that may result in postoperative bile leaks if not identified and addressed at the time of surgery.

The blood supply to the gallbladder is from the cystic artery which usually branches from the right hepatic artery, which branches from the common hepatic artery. There is no formal venous structure associated with the gallbladder. A commonly used landmark is the Triangle of Calot. There are two definitions of this anatomical landmark. The original description uses the cystic duct, the cystic artery, and the liver. The more commonly used description of Calot's Triangle is the cystic duct, the common hepatic duct and the undersurface of the liver. The latter description helps identify the cystic artery that lies within the triangle beneath the lymph node of Calot. The portal vein lies just below the common bile duct. The surgeon must always be aware of the high incidence of the diversity of this area of the body, and there, in fact, is no such thing as standard biliary anatomy. There are many anatomical variances such as choledulco cysts, fusiform gallbladders, accessory ducts, intrahepatic gallbladders, and duplications.

Fifteen percent to 20% of patients will have altered anatomy. One of the most dangerous situations is a short cystic duct with the accompanying short cystic artery. The common bile duct may be mistaken for the cystic duct and be at risk for transection. A short cystic artery may lead to injury or transection of the right hepatic artery. Ten percent to 15% of people have a replaced right hepatic artery with the origin from the SMA.[2]


With the advent of laparoscopic cholecystectomies, the indications to perform an open cholecystectomy have decreased. The most common instance (2% to 10%) that an open cholecystectomy is performed is when converting from a laparoscopic to open cholecystectomy. This change is made for a variety of reasons. Any time there is a question of the anatomy, surgeons may change to an open technique. Extensive inflammation, adhesions, anatomical variances, bile duct injury, retained bile duct stones, and uncontrolled bleeding are all indications to convert to an open procedure. The need for a common bile duct exploration also can be a reason to convert to an open procedure as laparoscopic bile duct exploration can be difficult. A planned open cholecystectomy may be performed in cases of cirrhosis, gallbladder cancer, extensive upper abdominal surgeries with adhesions, and other comorbid conditions. Situations of critically ill patients also may necessitate the need for a planned open cholecystectomy. An open procedure is less stressful in critically ill patients because the physiologic changes associated with a surgical pneumoperitoneum, such as decreased cardiac return and higher ventilation pressures, are not factors.

Poor visualization and unclear anatomy are typically the reason to convert. Conversion to open cholecystectomy should not be viewed as a complication or a failure but just the opposite. It is showing good judgment to complete the operation in the safest manner possible. [3]


There are no contraindications in performing an open cholecystectomy versus a laparoscopic cholecystectomy. The preferred method, however, is to complete the procedure using the laparoscopic technique as this can be done outpatient and reduces the recovery time from several weeks to about one week. General contradictions for any surgery, in general, apply to open cholecystectomy. Severe comorbid conditions such as shock, advanced cardiac and respiratory disease, anticoagulation, a recent neurologic event, and other life-threatening ailments are all relative contraindications to laparotomy.


Surgeons work in an appropriate operating room and use a general anesthetic. They use standard laparotomy equipment. Fluoroscopy and cholangiogram catheters need to be available in case an intraoperative cholangiogram is needed. A colonoscope and instrumentation to perform a possible common bile duct exploration should also be available. Bile duct baskets, graspers, and Fogarty catheters are also required to do extractions of common bile duct stones. An array of T- tubes are also required if performing bile duct exploration. Often cultures are also done in cases of acute cholecystitis or obvious infections.

Self-retaining retractors such as a Bookwalter may be of some benefit depending on the operative setting. If a cholangiogram is needed, either flat plate x-ray or C arm fluoroscopy is helpful. [4]


An experienced surgeon who is comfortable performing open cholecystectomies is the most important personnel. In modern times, residents have less experience with open cholecystectomies than surgeons who trained before the 1990s. A capable anesthesiologist is needed to administer the appropriate general anesthesia. An experienced first assistant is also needed. This is usually a senior surgery resident. A scrub technician and circulating nurse round out the personnel needed to complete an open cholecystectomy. In cases where an intraoperative cholangiogram is indicated, a radiology technician with fluoroscopy is also needed.


A thorough diagnostic workup needs to be completed to make the diagnosis of gallbladder disease. This workup includes a gallbladder ultrasound, and possibly, an abdominal CT scan, Hida scan, and blood work. The decision to perform a scheduled open cholecystectomy needs to made by the surgeon. A laparoscopic procedure always can be converted to an open procedure if needed. The surgeon must evaluate the risks versus the benefits before attempting a laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Patients must be hemodynamically stabilized and resuscitated if needed. Appropriate permits and information must be discussed with the patients including all risks, benefits, and options. Standard pre-operative preparation, such as nothing by mouth, possible antibiotics, and deep vein thrombosis prophylaxis must be instituted.

Part of the workup needs to include a thorough history and physical exam. Other specialties may be involved, such as gastroenterology or interventional radiology, to help in the workup and preparation in cases where preop ERCP or cholecystostomy tube is needed.


Once the patient is appropriately anesthetized and prepped, a right subcostal (Kocher) incision or upper midline incision is made. Adequate exposure is gained by using packs and retractors. It is important to obtain good visualization of the gallbladder, Triangle of Calot, and bile ducts. Care must be taken to avoid liver injury from the retractors. Once the surgeon has adequately identified all of the structures of the porta hepatis, the gallbladder is grasped with clamps and manipulated to facilitate the best visualization. At this point, the decision is made to remove the gallbladder either from the top-down or classically, from the Triangle of Calot up. The cystic duct is first identified and divided between hemoclips as is the cystic artery. Definitive identification of these structures is crucial. The gallbladder then can be removed from the gallbladder bed of the liver using either electrocautery or a Harmonic Scalpel. Inspection of the gallbladder bed is done to identify and address any bleeding or bile leaks from the duct of Luschka. Operative cholangiogram or common bile duct exploration is dependent on factors associated with common bile duct stones such as elevated bilirubin and dilated common bile duct (over 8 mm). The abdomen is then closed in a standard multilayer fashion.

There are times where the gallbladder is tense and distended from inflammation that may need to be drained with a decompression needle prior to starting the case. As in laparoscopy, the technique is based on surgeon experience and comfort. With either procedure, the surgeon should strive to gain an excellent critical view of safety before clipping or cutting. Some cases may present with a great deal of the inflammation or Hartmann's pouch is so fibrotic that "bailout" maneuvers are needed; these may consist of a cholecystostomy tube, partial cholecystectomy, or at times of necrosis leaving the back wall.  Closed suction drains can be placed at the discretion of the surgeon. [4]


When the procedure is done using an open technique, the implication is that it is not a typical cholecystectomy situation. Therefore, the complication rate associated is higher than with a routine laparoscopic cholecystectomy (16% versus 9% in a recent study). Because the incision is larger than that required for laparoscopic surgery, there is a higher incidence of hernia formation, wound infection, and hematoma. Open surgery is usually more painful than a laparoscopic procedure. Bile leaks and bile duct injury, as well as retained bile duct stones, are all complications associated with this surgery.

There is typically an increased direct and indirect cost associated.  This is usually a reflection of the additional time the patient spends in the hospital. Also, the complication rate is higher and may result in issues requiring additional procedures and/or medication, especially if a bile duct injury occurred. The longer recovery time may keep people out of work for an extended period. [5]

Clinical Significance

Although the gold standard for gallbladder surgery is a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, it is imperative that surgeons are also comfortable doing open cholecystectomies. Certain conditions mandate a planned open technique as the initial surgery. However, in laparoscopic cases, the surgeon must be prepared to convert to the open technique during an operation.

There is no substitute for experience and using appropriate clinical judgment in tough cases. Preparation is key and asking for help when the situation arises should not be forgotten. There is no substitute for safety.  Residents should never pass up the chance to scrub an open chole. They are not very common anymore.  The reason the case is open typically is preceded by some difficult issue that forces this technique.[6]

Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

The standard treatment of choice for gallbladder disease is laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Complete knowledge of all cholecystectomy techniques and indications is mandatory for a competent surgeon. Being able to convert from laparoscopic surgery to an open technique is part of the modern surgeon's arsenal. Indications from gallbladder cancer to poor visualization, to indistinguishable anatomy are all reasons to convert cases to open. Preoperative preparation will also allow the experienced surgeon to prepare for the possibility of conversion to an open technique. These possibilities must also be thoroughly discussed with each patient along with all possible risks and outcomes.

Interested in Participating?

We are looking for contributors to author, edit, and peer review our vast library of review articles and multiple choice questions. In as little as 2-3 hours you can make a significant contribution to your specialty. In return for a small amount of your time, you will receive free access to all content and you will be published as an author or editor in eBooks, apps, online CME/CE activities, and an online Learning Management System for students, teachers, and program directors that allows access to review materials in over 500 specialties.

Improve Content - Become an Author or Editor

This is an academic project designed to provide inexpensive peer-reviewed Apps, eBooks, and very soon an online CME/CE system to help students identify weaknesses and improve knowledge. We would like you to consider being an author or editor. Please click here to learn more. Thank you for you for your interest, the StatPearls Publishing Editorial Team.

Open Cholecystectomy - Questions

Take a quiz of the questions on this article.

Take Quiz
Which of the following is not an Indication to perform an open cholecystectomy?

Click Your Answer Below

Would you like to access teaching points and more information on this topic?

Improve Content - Become an Author or Editor and get free access to the entire database, free eBooks, as well as free CME/CE as it becomes available. If interested, please click on "Sign Up" to register.

Purchase- Want immediate access to questions, answers, and teaching points? They can be purchased above at Apps and eBooks.

Sign Up
What is the best incision to perform when performing an open cholecystectomy?

Click Your Answer Below

Would you like to access teaching points and more information on this topic?

Improve Content - Become an Author or Editor and get free access to the entire database, free eBooks, as well as free CME/CE as it becomes available. If interested, please click on "Sign Up" to register.

Purchase- Want immediate access to questions, answers, and teaching points? They can be purchased above at Apps and eBooks.

Sign Up
Which of the following complications is associated with open cholecystectomies?

Click Your Answer Below

Would you like to access teaching points and more information on this topic?

Improve Content - Become an Author or Editor and get free access to the entire database, free eBooks, as well as free CME/CE as it becomes available. If interested, please click on "Sign Up" to register.

Purchase- Want immediate access to questions, answers, and teaching points? They can be purchased above at Apps and eBooks.

Sign Up
A nurse is caring for a postoperative client on the surgical floor. The client is complaining of mild pain at the incision site. The nurse notes that the dressing is soaked and decides to change it. As soon as the nurse removes the dressing, the incision in the image below is seen. What type of procedure did this client likely undergo? Select all that apply.

(Move Mouse on Image to Enlarge)
  • Image 6568 Not availableImage 6568 Not available
    Image courtesy S Bhimji MD
Attributed To: Image courtesy S Bhimji MD

Click Your Answer Below

Would you like to access teaching points and more information on this topic?

Improve Content - Become an Author or Editor and get free access to the entire database, free eBooks, as well as free CME/CE as it becomes available. If interested, please click on "Sign Up" to register.

Purchase- Want immediate access to questions, answers, and teaching points? They can be purchased above at Apps and eBooks.

Sign Up

Open Cholecystectomy - References


Grau-Talens EJ,Motos-Micó JJ,Giraldo-Rubio R,Aparicio-Gallego JM,Salgado JF,Ibáñez CD,Mangione-Castro PG,Arribas-Jurado M,Jordán-Chaves C,Arias-Díaz J, Small-incision cholecystectomy (through a cylinder retractor) under local anaesthesia and sedation: a prospective observational study of five hundred consecutive cases. Langenbeck's archives of surgery. 2018 Sep 15;     [PubMed]
Bray F,Balcaen T,Baro E,Gandon A,Ficheur G,Chazard E, Increased incidence of cholecystectomy related to gallbladder disease in France: Analysis of 807,307 cholecystectomy procedures over a period of seven years. Journal of visceral surgery. 2018 Dec 17;     [PubMed]
Madni TD,Nakonezny PA,Imran JB,Taveras L,Cunningham HB,Vela R,Clark AT,Minshall CT,Eastman AL,Luk S,Phelan HA,Cripps MW, A comparison of cholecystitis grading scales. The journal of trauma and acute care surgery. 2018 Nov 5;     [PubMed]
Gomes CA,Junior CS,Di Saverio S,Sartelli M,Kelly MD,Gomes CC,Gomes FC,Corrêa LD,Alves CB,Guimarães SF, Acute calculous cholecystitis: Review of current best practices. World journal of gastrointestinal surgery. 2017 May 27     [PubMed]
Ece I,Ozturk B,Yilmaz H,Yormaz S,Şahin M, The effect of single incision laparoscopic cholecystectomy on systemic oxidative stress: a prospective clinical trial. Annals of surgical treatment and research. 2017 Apr     [PubMed]
Kuga D,Ebata T,Yokoyama Y,Igami T,Sugawara G,Mizuno T,Yamaguchi J,Nagino M, Long-term survival after multidisciplinary therapy for residual gallbladder cancer with peritoneal dissemination: a case report. Surgical case reports. 2017 Dec     [PubMed]


The intent of StatPearls is to provide practice questions and explanations to assist you in identifying and resolving knowledge deficits. These questions and explanations are not intended to be a source of the knowledge base of all of medicine, nor is it intended to be a board or certification review of Nurse-Adult Medical Surgical RN. The authors or editors do not warrant the information is complete or accurate. The reader is encouraged to verify each answer and explanation in several references. All drug indications and dosages should be verified before administration.

StatPearls offers the most comprehensive database of free multiple-choice questions with explanations and short review chapters ever developed. This system helps physicians, medical students, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, and allied health professionals identify education deficits and learn new concepts. StatPearls is not a board or certification review system for Nurse-Adult Medical Surgical RN, it is a learning system that you can use to help improve your knowledge base of medicine for life-long learning. StatPearls will help you identify your weaknesses so that when you are ready to study for a board or certification exam in Nurse-Adult Medical Surgical RN, you will already be prepared.

Our content is updated continuously through a multi-step peer review process that will help you be prepared and review for a thorough knowledge of Nurse-Adult Medical Surgical RN. When it is time for the Nurse-Adult Medical Surgical RN board and certification exam, you will already be ready. Besides online study quizzes, we also publish our peer-reviewed content in eBooks and mobile Apps. We also offer inexpensive CME/CE, so our content can be used to attain education credits while you study Nurse-Adult Medical Surgical RN.