Between January 1988 and December 1990, 283 patients with symptomatic gall stones were referred for non-operative treatment. After ultrasound scanning including a functional assessment, 220 (78%) patients were found to be suitable for percutaneous cholecystolithotomy. Of these, 113 underwent the procedure including 10 in whom extracorporeal shock-wave lithotripsy or methyl tert-butyl ether therapy had failed. Forty four patients underwent extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy, methyl tert-butyl ether therapy or rotary lithotripsy, 46 chose laparoscopic cholecystectomy or minicholecystectomy and 27 declined treatment. Percutaneous cholecystolithotomy was successfully performed in 100 patients. Thirty four patients were a high operative risk and 14 presented with an acute complication of gall stone disease. Complications developed in 15 patients, all of whom were managed conservatively and most occurred during development of the technique. Outcome has been assessed clinically and by ultrasound scanning in 92 patients with a median follow up period of 14 months (six to 37 months). Seventy nine per cent were completely cured of their symptoms. Ninety three per cent of gall bladders were shown to be functioning and nine (9.8%) contained stones, although five of these are believed to have developed from residual fragments. Percutaneous cholecystolithotomy is a safe, non-operative treatment for symptomatic gall stones and enabled the patient to fully recover within two to three weeks; it has a definite role in the management of the elderly and high risk patient but its use for the treatment of other groups is likely to remain controversial.
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