Early versus delayed laparoscopic cholecystectomy for people with acute cholecystitis

The liver produces bile which has many functions including elimination of waste processed by the liver and digestion of fat. The bile is temporarily stored in the gallbladder (an organ situated underneath the liver) before it reaches the small bowel. Concretions in the gallbladder are called gallstones. Gallstones are present in about 10% to 15% of the adult western population. Between 1% and 4% become symptomatic in a year. The symptoms include pain related to the gallbladder (biliary colic), inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis), obstruction to the flow of bile from the liver and gallbladder into the small bowel resulting in jaundice (yellowish discolourisation of the body usually most prominently noticed in the white of the eye, which turns yellow), bile infection (cholangitis), and inflammation of the pancreas, an organ which secretes digestive juices and harbours the insulin secreting cells which maintain blood sugar level (pancreatitis). Removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) is currently considered the best treatment option for people with symptomatic gallstones. This is generally performed by key-hole surgery (laparoscopic cholecystectomy). Cholecystitis (inflammation) of the gallbladder is one of the indications for laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Cholecystitis can occur suddenly, with symptoms such as fever along with intense pain in the right upper tummy. This is called acute cholecystitis. In comparison, chronic cholecystitis is a smouldering inflammation of the gallbladder which presents with less intense pain in the right upper tummy. For many years, surgeons have preferred to perform laparoscopic cholecystectomy once the inflammation settles down completely (which usually takes about six weeks) because of the fear of higher complication rates including injury to the bile duct (a tube through which the bile flows from the gallbladder to the small bowel). Injury to the bile duct is a life-threatening condition which requires urgent corrective operation in most instances. In spite of the corrective surgery, people have poor quality of life several years after the operation due to repeated instances of bile infection caused by obstruction to the flow of bile into the small bowel. Another reason for the surgeons' preference for delaying the operation is to avoid an open operation, as there has been a perception that early operation increases the risk of an open operation. However, delaying the surgery exposes the people to the risk of complications related to gallstones. The review authors set out to determine whether it is preferable to perform early laparoscopic cholecystectomy (within seven days of people presenting to doctors with symptoms) or delayed laparoscopic cholecystectomy (more than six weeks after the initial admission). A systematic search of medical literature was performed in order to identify studies which provided information on the above question. The authors obtained information from randomised trials only since such types of trials provide the best information if conducted well. Two authors independently identified the trials and collected the information.

Six trials providing information on the review question were identified. A total of 488 people with acute cholecystitis were included. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy was performed early (within seven days of people presenting to the doctor with symptoms) in 244 people while it was performed after at least six weeks in the remaining 244 people. The proportion of females ranged between 43.3% and 80% in the trials that provided this information. The average age of participants ranged between 40 years and 60 years. All the trials were at high risk of bias (and might have overestimated the benefits or underestimated the harms of either early laparoscopic cholecystectomy or delayed laparoscopic cholecystectomy). All the people included in the trials were discharged home alive after operation in the five trials from which this information was available. There was no significant difference in the proportion of people who developed bile duct injury, surgical complications, or who required conversion from key-hole to open operation between the two groups. None of the trials reported quality of life from the time of randomisation. The total hospital stay was shorter in the early group than the delayed group by four days. There was no significant difference in the operating time between the two groups. Only one trial reported the time taken for employed people to return to work. The people belonging to the early laparoscopic cholecystectomy group returned to work 11 days, on average, earlier than the delayed laparoscopic cholecystectomy group. Four trials did not report any gallstone-related complications during the waiting period. One trial reported five gallstone-related complications, including two people with cholangitis. There were no reports of pancreatitis during the waiting time. Gallstone-related morbidity was not reported in the remaining trial. Approximately one-sixth of people belonging to the delayed group had either non-resolution of symptoms or recurrence of symptoms before their planned operation and had to undergo emergency laparoscopic cholecystectomy in five trials. Based on information from a varied number of participants as well as trials at high risk of bias, early laparoscopic cholecystectomy during acute cholecystitis appears safe and shortens the total hospital stay. The majority of the important outcomes occurred rarely and hence one cannot rule out that future trials may show that one treatment or another may be better in terms of complications. However, the trial size required to show such differences involves a clinical trial on more than 50,000 people and so it is unlikely that such large trials will be performed. Several smaller randomised trials may answer the questions through meta-analyses.

Authors' conclusions: 

We found no significant difference between early and late laparoscopic cholecystectomy on our primary outcomes. However, trials with high risk of bias indicate that early laparoscopic cholecystectomy during acute cholecystitis seems safe and may shorten the total hospital stay. The majority of the important outcomes occurred rarely, and hence the confidence intervals are wide. It is unlikely that future randomised clinical trials will be powered to measure differences in bile duct injury and other serious complications since this might involve performing a trial of more than 50,000 people, but several smaller randomised trials may answer the questions through meta-analyses.

Read the full abstract...
Background: 

Gallstones are present in about 10% to 15% of the adult western population. Between 1% and 4% of these adults become symptomatic in a year (the majority due to biliary colic but a significant proportion due to acute cholecystitis). Laparoscopic cholecystectomy for acute cholecystitis is mainly performed after the acute cholecystitis episode settles because of the fear of higher morbidity and of need for conversion from laparoscopic to open cholecystectomy. However, delaying surgery exposes the people to gallstone-related complications.

Objectives: 

The aim of this systematic review was to compare early laparoscopic cholecystectomy (less than seven days of clinical presentation with acute cholecystitis) versus delayed laparoscopic cholecystectomy (more than six weeks after index admission with acute cholecystitis) with regards to benefits and harms.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Group Controlled Trials Register and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) in The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE, Science Citation Index Expanded, and World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform until July 2012.

Selection criteria: 

We included all randomised clinical trials comparing early versus delayed laparoscopic cholecystectomy in participants with acute cholecystitis.

Data collection and analysis: 

We used standard methodological procedures expected by The Cochrane Collaboration.

Main results: 

We identified seven trials that met the inclusion criteria. Out of these, six trials provided data for the meta-analyses. A total of 488 participants with acute cholecystitis and fit to undergo laparoscopic cholecystectomy were randomised to early laparoscopic cholecystectomy (ELC) (244 people) and delayed laparoscopic cholecystectomy (DLC) (244 people) in the six trials. Blinding was not performed in any of the trials and so all the trials were at high risk of bias. Other than blinding, three of the six trials were at low risk of bias in the other domains such as sequence generation, allocation concealment, incomplete outcome data, and selective outcome reporting. The proportion of females ranged between 43.3% and 80% in the trials that provided this information. The average age of participants ranged between 40 years and 60 years. There was no mortality in any of the participants in five trials that reported mortality. There was no significant difference in the proportion of people who developed bile duct injury in the two groups (ELC 1/219 (adjusted proportion 0.4%) versus DLC 2/219 (0.9%); Peto OR 0.49; 95% CI 0.05 to 4.72 (5 trials)). There was no significant difference between the two groups (ELC 14/219 (adjusted proportion 6.5%) versus DLC 11/219 (5.0%); RR 1.29; 95% CI 0.61 to 2.72 (5 trials)) in terms of other serious complications. None of the trials reported quality of life from the time of randomisation. There was no significant difference between the two groups in the proportion of people who required conversion to open cholecystectomy (ELC 49/244 (adjusted proportion 19.7%) versus DLC 54/244 (22.1%); RR 0.89; 95% CI 0.63 to 1.25 (6 trials)). The total hospital stay was shorter in the early group than the delayed group by four days (MD -4.12 days; 95% CI -5.22 to -3.03 (4 trials; 373 people)). There was no significant difference in the operating time between the two groups (MD -1.22 minutes; 95% CI -3.07 to 0.64 (6 trials; 488 people)). Only one trial reported return to work. The people belonging to the ELC group returned to work earlier than the DLC group (MD -11.00 days; 95% CI -19.61 to -2.39 (1 trial; 36 people)). Four trials did not report any gallstone-related morbidity during the waiting period. One trial reported five gallstone-related morbidities (cholangitis: two; biliary colic not requiring urgent operation: one; acute cholecystitis not requiring urgent operation: two). There were no reports of pancreatitis during the waiting time. Gallstone-related morbidity was not reported in the remaining trials. Forty (18.3%) of the people belonging to the delayed group had either non-resolution of symptoms or recurrence of symptoms before their planned operation and had to undergo emergency laparoscopic cholecystectomy in five trials. The proportion with conversion to open cholecystectomy was 45% (18/40) in this group of people.

Share/Save