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ANZ J Surg. 2002 Feb;72(2):83-8.

Iatrogenic bile duct injury: the scourge of laparoscopic cholecystectomy.

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Hepatobiliary Unit, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.



Laparoscopic cholecystectomy (LC) has become the first-line surgical treatment of calculous gall-bladder disease and the benefits over open cholecystectomy are well known. In the early years of LC, the higher rate of bile duct injuries compared with open cholecystectomy was believed to be due to the 'learning curve' and would dissipate with increased experience. The purpose of the present paper was to review a tertiary referral unit's experience of bile duct injuries induced by LC.


A retrospective analysis was performed on all patients referred for management of an iatrogenic bile duct injury from 1981 to 2000. For injuries sustained at LC, details of time between LC and recognition of the injury, time from injury to definitive repair, type of injury, use of intraoperative cholangiography (IOC), definitive repair and postoperative outcome were recorded. The type of injury sustained at open cholecystectomy was similarly classified to allow the severity of injury to be compared.


There were 131 patients referred for management of an iatrogenic bile duct injury that occurred at open cholecystectomy (n = 62), liver resection (n = 5) and at LC (n = 64). Only 39% of bile duct injuries were recognized at the time of LC. Following conversion to open operation, half the subsequent procedures were considered inappropriate. When the injury was not recognized during LC, 70% of patients developed bile leak/peritonitis, almost half of whom were referred, whereas the rest underwent a variety of operative procedures by the referring surgeon. The remainder developed jaundice or abnormal liver function tests and cholangitis. An IOC was performed in 43% of cases, but failed to identify an injury in two-thirds of patients. The bile duct injuries that occurred at LC were of greater severity than with open cholecystectomy. Following definitive repair, there was one death (1.6%). Ninety-two per cent of patients had an uncomplicated recovery and there was one late stricture requiring surgical revision.


The early prediction that the rate of injury during LC would decline substantially with increased experience has not been fulfilled. Bile duct injury that occurs at LC is of greater severity than with open cholecystectomy. Bile duct injury is recognized during LC in less than half the cases. Evidence is accruing that the use of cholangiography reduces the risk and severity of injury and, when correctly interpreted, increases the chance of recognition of bile duct injury during the procedure. Prevention is the key but, should an injury occur, referral to a specialist in biliary reconstructive surgery is indicated.

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