Gallstones are a common problem in the general population and commonly cause problems with pain (biliary colic) and gallbladder infections (acute cholecystitis). Gallstones can sometimes migrate out of the gallbladder and become trapped in the tube between the gallbladder and the small bowel (common bile duct). Here, they obstruct the flow of bile from the liver and gallbladder into the small bowel and cause pain, jaundice (yellowish discolouration of the eyes, dark urine, and pale stools), and sometimes severe infections of the bile (cholangitis). Between 10% and 18% of people undergoing cholecystectomy for gallstones have common bile duct stones.
Treatment involves removal of the gallbladder as well as the gallstones from this tube. There are several methods to achieve this. Surgery is performed to remove the gallbladder. In the past, this was performed through a single large incision through the abdomen (open cholecystectomy). Newer keyhole techniques (laparoscopic surgery) are now the most common methods of removal of the gallbladder. Removal of the trapped gallstones in the common bile duct can be performed at the same time as the open or keyhole surgery. Alternatively, an endoscope (a narrow flexible tube equipped with a camera) is inserted through the mouth and into the small bowel to allow removal of the trapped gallstones from the common bile duct. This procedure can be performed before, during, and after the surgery to remove the gallbladder. This systematic review attempts to answer the question of the safest and most effective method to remove these trapped gallstones (in terms of open surgery or laparoscopic surgery compared with endoscopic removal), whether removal of the common bile duct stones should be performed during surgery to remove the gallbladder as a single-stage treatment or as a separate treatment before or after surgery (two-stage treatment).
We analysed results from randomised clinical trials in the literature to assess the benefits and harms of these procedures
Quality of evidence
We identified a total of 16 trials including 1758 participants. All the trials were at high risk of bias (defects in study design which may result in overestimation of benefits or underestimation of harms). Overall the quality of the evidence is moderate because of the risk of systematic errors or bias (defects in study design) and random errors (insufficient number of participants were included in the trials) which can result in wrong conclusions.
Our analysis suggests open surgery to remove the gallbladder and trapped gallstones appears to be as safe as endoscopy and may even be more successful than the endoscopic technique in clearing the duct stones. Keyhole (laparoscopic) surgery to remove the gallbladder and trapped gallstones appears to be as safe as and as effective as the endoscopic technique. More randomised clinical trials conducted with low risks of systematic errors (trials) and low risks of random errors (play of chances) are required to confirm or refute the present findings.
Open bile duct surgery seems superior to ERCP in achieving common bile duct stone clearance based on the evidence available from the early endoscopy era. There is no significant difference in the mortality and morbidity between laparoscopic bile duct clearance and the endoscopic options. There is no significant reduction in the number of retained stones and failure rates in the laparoscopy groups compared with the pre-operative and intra-operative ERCP groups. There is no significant difference in the mortality, morbidity, retained stones, and failure rates between the single-stage laparoscopic bile duct clearance and two-stage endoscopic management. More randomised clinical trials without risks of systematic and random errors are necessary to confirm these findings.
Between 10% to 18% of people undergoing cholecystectomy for gallstones have common bile duct stones. Treatment of the bile duct stones can be conducted as open cholecystectomy plus open common bile duct exploration or laparoscopic cholecystectomy plus laparoscopic common bile duct exploration (LC + LCBDE) versus pre- or post-cholecystectomy endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) in two stages, usually combined with either sphincterotomy (commonest) or sphincteroplasty (papillary dilatation) for common bile duct clearance. The benefits and harms of the different approaches are not known.
We aimed to systematically review the benefits and harms of different approaches to the management of common bile duct stones.
We searched the Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Group Controlled Trials Register, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL, Issue 7 of 12, 2013) in The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE (1946 to August 2013), EMBASE (1974 to August 2013), and Science Citation Index Expanded (1900 to August 2013).
We included all randomised clinical trials which compared the results from open surgery versus endoscopic clearance and laparoscopic surgery versus endoscopic clearance for common bile duct stones.
Two review authors independently identified the trials for inclusion and independently extracted data. We calculated the odds ratio (OR) or mean difference (MD) with 95% confidence interval (CI) using both fixed-effect and random-effects models meta-analyses, performed with Review Manager 5.
Sixteen randomised clinical trials with a total of 1758 randomised participants fulfilled the inclusion criteria of this review. Eight trials with 737 participants compared open surgical clearance with ERCP; five trials with 621 participants compared laparoscopic clearance with pre-operative ERCP; and two trials with 166 participants compared laparoscopic clearance with postoperative ERCP. One trial with 234 participants compared LCBDE with intra-operative ERCP. There were no trials of open or LCBDE versus ERCP in people without an intact gallbladder. All trials had a high risk of bias.
There was no significant difference in the mortality between open surgery versus ERCP clearance (eight trials; 733 participants; 5/371 (1%) versus 10/358 (3%) OR 0.51;95% CI 0.18 to 1.44). Neither was there a significant difference in the morbidity between open surgery versus ERCP clearance (eight trials; 733 participants; 76/371 (20%) versus 67/358 (19%) OR 1.12; 95% CI 0.77 to 1.62). Participants in the open surgery group had significantly fewer retained stones compared with the ERCP group (seven trials; 609 participants; 20/313 (6%) versus 47/296 (16%) OR 0.36; 95% CI 0.21 to 0.62), P = 0.0002.
There was no significant difference in the mortality between LC + LCBDE versus pre-operative ERCP +LC (five trials; 580 participants; 2/285 (0.7%) versus 3/295 (1%) OR 0.72; 95% CI 0.12 to 4.33). Neither was there was a significant difference in the morbidity between the two groups (five trials; 580 participants; 44/285 (15%) versus 37/295 (13%) OR 1.28; 95% CI 0.80 to 2.05). There was no significant difference between the two groups in the number of participants with retained stones (five trials; 580 participants; 24/285 (8%) versus 31/295 (11%) OR 0.79; 95% CI 0.45 to 1.39).
There was only one trial assessing LC + LCBDE versus LC+intra-operative ERCP including 234 participants. There was no reported mortality in either of the groups. There was no significant difference in the morbidity, retained stones, procedure failure rates between the two intervention groups.
Two trials assessed LC + LCBDE versus LC+post-operative ERCP. There was no reported mortality in either of the groups. There was no significant difference in the morbidity between laparoscopic surgery and postoperative ERCP groups (two trials; 166 participants; 13/81 (16%) versus 12/85 (14%) OR 1.16; 95% CI 0.50 to 2.72). There was a significant difference in the retained stones between laparoscopic surgery and postoperative ERCP groups (two trials; 166 participants; 7/81 (9%) versus 21/85 (25%) OR 0.28; 95% CI 0.11 to 0.72; P = 0.008.
In total, seven trials including 746 participants compared single staged LC + LCBDE versus two-staged pre-operative ERCP + LC or LC + post-operative ERCP. There was no significant difference in the mortality between single and two-stage management (seven trials; 746 participants; 2/366 versus 3/380 OR 0.72; 95% CI 0.12 to 4.33). There was no a significant difference in the morbidity (seven trials; 746 participants; 57/366 (16%) versus 49/380 (13%) OR 1.25; 95% CI 0.83 to 1.89). There were significantly fewer retained stones in the single-stage group (31/366 participants; 8%) compared with the two-stage group (52/380 participants; 14%), but the difference was not statistically significantOR 0.59; 95% CI 0.37 to 0.94).
There was no significant difference in the conversion rates of LCBDE to open surgery when compared with pre-operative, intra-operative, and postoperative ERCP groups. Meta-analysis of the outcomes duration of hospital stay, quality of life, and cost of the procedures could not be performed due to lack of data.