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Am J Surg. 1993 Apr;165(4):420-6.

Overview of therapeutic modalities for the treatment of gallstone diseases.

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Hepatobiliary-Pancreatic Group, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri.


The management of gallstone diseases has been revolutionized in less than 2 years by the advent of laparoscopic cholecystectomy (LC). However, the rapid adoption of LC has occurred without comparative randomized trials with other available therapies. Thus, the evaluation of LC versus other therapies can only be based on case series. The criteria used for this evaluation are clinical effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, and the patient's level of acceptance and satisfaction with the procedure. The techniques of both LC and open cholecystectomy (OC) have the advantage over other approaches, such as extracorporeal shock-wave lithotripsy or bile acid therapy, of eliminating not only the gallstones but also the gallbladder, thereby preventing recurrence of the disease. Additionally, medical therapies are effective in only a subgroup of patients. Since the complications of surgery are more frequent and more severe in older patients and, due to life expectancy, the risk of recurrence is lower in this population, cost-effectiveness analyses have shown that medical therapies may be preferable in older patients in the subgroup eligible for the respective medical therapies. Compared with OC, LC results in a reduction in hospital stay and time to return to work, in lower cost, and in higher patient satisfaction with the procedure. However, a major concern with the laparoscopic approach has been an increase in the incidence of bile duct injury, particularly during the learning phase of the procedure. Clearly, this problem must be solved. The development of training courses in laparoscopy and the adoption of rigorous criteria for ductal identification are critical in preventing such injuries. Bile duct injury can probably be reduced at least to the level of OC (about 1 in 1,000). Acute cholecystitis may also be treated by LC, but the safety and timing of surgery should be conclusively evaluated. Patients with gallbladder stones and choledocholithiasis are usually treated by endoscopic sphincterotomy either before or soon after laparoscopic surgery. Laparoscopic techniques of common bile duct exploration that will obviate the need for endoscopic sphincterotomy are in the developmental stages. When such a technique is available, comparative trials with endoscopic sphincterotomy will be necessary to assess the best approach.

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