Thirty two patients with empyema of the gall bladder were identified among 1327 cases of gall-bladder disease presenting to one hospital over a six year period. Abdominal pain had been present for a median of eight days and, in eight cases, for between one and four months. In a few cases, the disease was painless and was discovered unexpectedly at postmortem or at operation for unrelated disease. The serious nature of the complaint was belied by the often scanty physical signs. Less than half the patients had a pyrexia of more than 37.5 degrees C and the presence of sepsis was rarely suspected clinically. Eight patients (25%) died, usually from unsuspected septicaemia. This considerable mortality might be reduced by the wider use of blood culture in cases of apparent 'cholecystitis' and by greater awareness that empyema of the gall bladder is sometimes chronic, painless, and afebrile.
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