Published online Oct 7, 2014. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v20.i37.13382
Revised: March 23, 2014
Accepted: May 29, 2014
Published online: October 7, 2014
Biliary lithiasis is an endemic condition in both Western and Eastern countries, in some studies affecting 20% of the general population. In up to 20% of cases, gallbladder stones are associated with common bile duct stones (CBDS), which are asymptomatic in up to one half of cases. Despite the wide variety of examinations and techniques available nowadays, two main open issues remain without a clear answer: how to cost-effectively diagnose CBDS and, when they are finally found, how to deal with them. CBDS diagnosis and management has radically changed over the last 30 years, following the dramatic diffusion of imaging, including endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) and magnetic resonance cholangiography (MRC), endoscopy and laparoscopy. Since accuracy, invasiveness, potential therapeutic use and cost-effectiveness of imaging techniques used to identify CBDS increase together in a parallel way, the concept of “risk of carrying CBDS” has become pivotal to identifying the most appropriate management of a specific patient in order to avoid the risk of “under-studying” by poor diagnostic work up or “over-studying” by excessively invasive examinations. The risk of carrying CBDS is deduced by symptoms, liver/pancreas serology and ultrasound. “Low risk” patients do not require further examination before laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Two main “philosophical approaches” face each other for patients with an “intermediate to high risk” of carrying CBDS: on one hand, the “laparoscopy-first” approach, which mainly relies on intraoperative cholangiography for diagnosis and laparoscopic common bile duct exploration for treatment, and, on the other hand, the “endoscopy-first” attitude, variously referring to MRC, EUS and/or endoscopic retrograde cholangiography for diagnosis and endoscopic sphincterotomy for management. Concerning CBDS diagnosis, intraoperative cholangiography, EUS and MRC are reported to have similar results. Regarding management, the recent literature seems to show better short and long term outcome of surgery in terms of retained stones and need for further procedures. Nevertheless, open surgery is invasive, whereas the laparoscopic common bile duct clearance is time consuming, technically demanding and involves dedicated instruments. Thus, although no consensus has been achieved and CBDS management seems more conditioned by the availability of instrumentation, personnel and skills than cost-effectiveness, endoscopic treatment is largely preferred worldwide.
Core tip: Common bile duct stones (CBDS) are not infrequent in patients with gallstones and should be treated. The concept of “risk of carrying CBDS”, based on symptoms, liver serology and ultrasound, is pivotal to identify the appropriate management. While “low risk” patients do not require further examination, “intermediate to high risk” patients may be offered intraoperative cholangiography (IOC) and laparoscopic choledochus exploration, or may be referred to magnetic resonance cholangiography (MRC), endoscopic ultrasound (EUS), endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography and sphincterotomy. Whereas the results of IOC, MRC and EUS are similar in identifying CBDS, surgery seems superior to endoscopic sphincterotomy in choledochus clearance, although this latter is preferred worldwide.