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Surg Endosc. 2007 May;21(5):769-73. Epub 2007 Mar 7.

The clinical significance of bile duct sludge: is it different from bile duct stones?

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Department of Gastroenterology, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, Tel Aviv, Israel.



Some patients with suspected common bile duct (CBD) stones are found to have sludge and no stones. Although sludge in the gallbladder is a precursor of gallbladder stones, the significance of bile duct sludge (BDS) is poorly defined. This study aimed to compare BDS with bile duct stones in terms of frequency, associated risk factors, and clinical outcome after endoscopic therapy.


The study enrolled 228 patients who underwent therapeutic endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) for suspected choledocholithiasis. The patients were divided into two groups: patients with BDS but no stones on ERCP and patients with CBD stones. The presence of risk factors for bile duct stones (age, periampullary diverticulum, ductal dilation or angulation, previous open cholecystectomy) were assessed at ERCP. Follow-up data (36 +/- 19 months) were obtained from medical records and by patient questioning.


Bile duct sludge occurred in 14% (31/228) of patients and was more common in females. After endoscopic clearance, CBD stones recurred in 17% (33/197) of the patients with CBD stones, and in 16% (5/31) of the patients with BDS (p = 0.99). Common bile duct dilation was less common in the sludge group. The other known risk factors for recurrent CBD stones (age, previous open cholecystectomy, bile duct angulation, and the presence of a peripampullary diverticulum) were not statistically different between the two groups.


The findings indicate that the clinical significance of symptomatic BDS is similar to that of CBD stones. Bile duct sludge seems to be an early stage of choledocholithiasis.

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