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AJR Am J Roentgenol. 1995 Apr;164(4):865-9.

Biliary sludge after liver transplantation: 2. Treatment with interventional techniques versus surgery and/or oral chemolysis.

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  • 1Department of Radiology, University of Vienna, Medical School, Austria.



Interventional treatment of biliary sludge in liver transplant recipients includes transhepatic biliary drainage and saline irrigation, catheter chemolysis and/or basket extraction, and endoscopic intervention. The purpose of this study was to compare these interventional procedures with oral chemolysis and with surgical treatment of biliary sludge in order to evaluate the effectiveness of interventional procedures as an alternative to surgery in the treatment of this complication.


We retrospectively evaluated the outcome of several forms of treatment for biliary sludge occurring after liver transplantation in 49 cases. Treatments included oral chemolysis with chenodeoxycholic acid (n = 35), percutaneous transhepatic biliary drainage (n = 13) followed by irrigation with heparinized saline solution (n = 4), intraluminal chemolysis with glycero-octanoate-carnosine and bile salts-EDTA (n = 3) and/or basket extraction (n = 5), and endoscopic intervention (n = 2) or surgery (n = 26). Oral chemolysis was attempted in all cases of biliary sludge if no other complications were present. If this conservative treatment failed and the sludge was limited to the main bile ducts, interventional procedures were attempted. Surgical removal of the sludge (n = 15) or retransplantation (n = 5) without any attempt at prior nonsurgical treatment was performed if concomitant complications were present (n = 14) or if the extent of the sludge was considered too time-consuming for an interventional attempt (n = 6). The six patients in whom nonsurgical treatment failed underwent surgery. Treatment was considered successful if cholangiograms obtained after therapy showed no more evidence of sludge. Treatment was considered a failure if biliary sludge was shown after therapy by means of cholangiography, surgery, or autopsy.


Complete disappearance of biliary sludge as a result of oral chemolysis was achieved in 14 (40%) of 35 cases. Interventional procedures were performed in 15 of the patients in whom oral treatment failed. After percutaneous transhepatic biliary drainage, the sludge was successfully removed by chemolysis with glycero-octanoate-carnosine in three cases, by basket extraction in one case, and by a combination of chemolysis and basket extraction in three cases. In two other cases, underlying recurrent tumor was treated palliatively with percutaneous transhepatic biliary drainage or endoscopic stenting. Irrigation with heparinized saline solution failed in four cases, and percutaneous or endoscopic basket extraction failed in one case each. Surgical treatment was successful in 18 (86%) of 21 cases, and retransplantation was successfully done in five patients. In all, interventional techniques were used in 43% of the patients with biliary sludge who could not be treated successfully with oral chemolysis, and the overall success rate was 60%.


Interventional techniques are effective therapeutic alternatives for treating biliary sludge occurring after liver transplantation and should be considered before surgical procedures. An indication for interventional procedures in biliary sludge is lack of success of oral chemolysis and an absence of other complications that require surgery or retransplantation.

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