During a period of 24 months 693 consecutive patients with symptomatic gall bladder stones (526 males, 167 females; mean age 51 years, range 18-89) were treated by extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy with a Piezolith 2300. The procedure was carried out on an out-patient basis without analgesics or sedatives. Concomitant chemolitholytic treatment (ursodeoxycholic and chenodeoxycholic acid 7.5 mg/kg/day each) was administered until three months after total fragment clearance for a maximum therapy period of 1.5 years. In 601 patients with radiolucent stones complete clearance of all fragments was obtained after three, six, 12, and 18 months in respectively 20, 41, 64, and 78%. Actuarial analysis of the subgroups according to the stone mass (size and number) selected an ideal patient population with solitary stones less than 20 mm diameter (84% stone free after one year). The results are significantly less good when the greater the number of stones or their maximal diameter increases. Treatment was interrupted in 3.6% of the patients. In 90 sludge or fragments remain present. Twenty five patients were lost to follow up for non-biliary reasons. Stone recurrence was 5.7% at one year and was observed both in patients with solitary and multiple stones. A cost effectiveness analysis suggests that laparoscopic cholecystectomy is the most effective and economic solution, although extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy for solitary radiolucent stones less than 2 cm is cheaper than conventional cholecystectomy. Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy for multiple stones is the most expensive and least effective option.
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