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Ulster Med J. 2005 Sep;74(2):108-12.

Natural history of asymptomatic bile duct stones at time of cholecystectomy.

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  • 1Department of Gastroenterology, Ulster Community & Hospitals Trust, Dundonald, Belfast.



There is little data on the natural history of asymptomatic bile duct stones and hence there is uncertainty on the management of asymptomatic bile duct stones discovered incidentally at the time of laparoscopic cholecystectomy. We retrospectively reviewed a group of patients who had previously underwent laparoscopic cholecystectomy, but who did not have a pre-operative suspicion of intra-ductal stones, to determine if any biliary complications had subsequently developed. A group of patients who had no pre-operative suspicion of intra-ductal stones, but routinely underwent intraoperative cholangiogram (IOC) at time of cholecystectomy, served as the control group.


A telephone questionnaire was completed by each patient's family practitioner in 59 of 79 (75%) patients who underwent laparoscopic cholecystectomy. In the remaining 20 patients additional information was obtained from hospital records and from the central services agency (CSA). These patients had no pre-operative suspicion of bile duct stones and therefore did not undergo an IOC or ERCP. The control group (73 patients) had no pre-operative suspicion of bile duct stones but had a routine IOC performed to define the biliary anatomy.


59 patients were followed up for an average of 57 months (range 30-78 months) after laparoscopic cholecystectomy. None of these patients developed pancreatitis, jaundice, deranged liver function tests (LFT's), or required ERCP or other biliary intervention. In the additional 20 patients where no information was available from the family practitioner, 11 patients had follow up appointments with no documentation of biliary complications or abnormal LFT's. 19 of 20 patients were traceable through the CSA and were all alive. Only 1 patient was untraceable and therefore unknown if biliary complications had developed. In the control group, 4 of 73 (6%) patients had intraductal stones detected and extracted. Thus the prevalence of asymptomatic bile duct stones during the time of cholecystectomy in our population was 6%.


Asymptomatic bile duct stones discovered at the time of cholecystectomy do not appear to cause any biliary complications over a 5-year follow up. Incidental bile duct stones found in patients undergoing laparoscopic cholecystectomy may not need to be removed.

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