BACKGROUND: To date, no procedure has yet been identified as the gold standard for the treatment of gallstone cholangitis in the laparoscopic era. METHODS: The data of 109 consecutive patients with acute cholangitis were prospectively entered into a computerized database. All patients were managed according to a standard protocol. The main treatments were endoscopic retrograde cholangiography (ERC) combined with endoscopic sphincterotomy (ES), followed by interval laparoscopic cholecystectomy (LC). Patients in whom ERC or endoscopic stone clearance failed were managed by emergency open common bile duct exploration. LC was performed with a standardized four-cannula technique. The mean duration of surgery, conversion rate, and postoperative outcome of these patients were evaluated. RESULTS: ERC was successful in 103 patients (94.5%). In five of these patients (4.8%), no bile duct stones were found. The 98 patients (95.2%) with common bile duct stones were referred for ES. The bile duct stones were successfully removed after ES in 93 cases (94.9%). The overall failure rate of ERC and ES for choledocholithiasis was 10.1%. Self-limiting pancreatitis occurred in four patients (4.3%). Overall, two of the 109 patients died (1.8%). After ES, 81 patients underwent LC. LC was performed successfully in 74 patients (91.3%). Conversion to open surgery was required in seven patients (8.7%). The morbidity rate after cholecystectomy was 7.4%; the morbidity rate after open bile duct exploration was 36.4% (p<0.05). Fifteen patients were managed conservatively after initial endoscopic management of their cholangitis. The overall incidence of recurrent biliary symptoms was significantly higher among patients with gallbladder in place than for patients who underwent cholecystectomy (38.5% vs 1.5%, p<0.001). CONCLUSIONS: ES followed by LC is a safe and effective approach for the management of gallstone cholangitis; cholecystectomy should be performed in patients with gallstone cholangitis unless the operative risk is extremely high. These high operative risk patients and those who refuse surgery after ES should be warned that they are at high risk for recurrent biliary symptoms.
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