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Ann Surg. 2004 Jan;239(1):28-33.

A prospective study of common bile duct calculi in patients undergoing laparoscopic cholecystectomy: natural history of choledocholithiasis revisited.

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Department of Surgery, Mercy University Hospital, Cork, Ireland.



To define the incidence of problematic common bile duct calculi in patients undergoing laparoscopic cholecystectomy.


In patients selected for laparoscopic cholecystectomy, the true incidence of potentially problematic common bile duct calculi and their natural history has not been determined. We evaluated the incidence and early natural history of common bile duct calculi in all patients undergoing laparoscopic cholecystectomy with intraoperative and delayed postoperative cholangiography.


Operative cholangiography was attempted in all patients. In those patients in whom a filling defect was noted in the bile duct, the fine bore cholangiogram catheter was left securely clipped in the cystic duct for repeated cholangiography at 48 hours and at approximately 6 weeks postoperatively.


Operative cholangiography was attempted in 997 consecutive patients and was accomplished in 962 patients (96%). Forty-six patients (4.6%) had at least one filling defect. Twelve of these had a normal cholangiogram at 48 hours (26% possible false-positive operative cholangiogram) and a further 12 at 6 weeks (26% spontaneous passage of calculi). Spontaneous passage was not determined by either the number or size of calculi or by the diameter of the bile duct. Only 22 patients (2.2% of total population) had persistent common bile duct calculi at 6 weeks after laparoscopic cholecystectomy and retrieved by endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography.


Choledocholithiasis occurs in 3.4% of patients undergoing laparoscopic cholecystectomy but more than one third of these pass the calculi spontaneously within 6 weeks of operation and may be spared endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography. Treatment decisions based on assessment by operative cholangiography alone would result in unnecessary interventions in 50% of patients who had either false positive studies or subsequently passed the calculi. These data support a short-term expectant approach in the management of clinically silent choledocholithiasis in patients selected for LC.

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