No procedure has yet been identified as the "gold standard" for the detection and treatment of common bile duct stones (CBDS) in patients undergoing laparoscopic cholecystectomy (LC). This prospective study involves 2137 patients undergoing elective laparoscopic cholecystectomy. The algorithm for diagnostic management in place until July 1997 involved routine intravenous cholangiography and selective endoscopic retrograde cholangiography (ERC). Subsequently, assessment of the bile duct was not routinely performed, but a scoring system was applied to single out those patients at risk of CBDS who should undergo intravenous cholangiography and/or ERC (see Fig. 2). Whenever bile duct stones were found, endoscopic sphincterotomy (ES) was performed, and LC was performed with a standardized four-cannula technique after endoscopic bile duct stone clearance. Common bile duct stones were suspected in 340 patients who were referred for preoperative ERC; 250 patients were referred for ES; 21 patients were referred for open surgery because of failure of ERC or sphincterotomy. Common bile duct stones, detected in 283 cases (13.2%), were removed before surgery in 250 cases (88.3%) and during surgery in 28 cases (9.9%). Self-limited pancreatitis occurred in 4.2% of the patients after sphincterotomy. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy was performed in 98.4% of the cases. The conversion rate was 8.3% if sphincterotomy had been performed previously and 3.4% after standard laparoscopic cholecystectomy (p < 0.001). The morbidity rate was 4.5%; mortality, 0.09%. During follow-up five patients (0.2%) had retained stones endoscopically treated. Future trials of novel strategies for detecting and treating CBDS should compare the results of novel strategies with those of the strategy employed in this study, which includes selective ERC, preoperative ES, and LC.
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