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The natural history of incidental common bile duct stones (CBDS) is poorly understood. Current evidence is conflicting, with several studies suggesting the majority may pass spontaneously. Despite this, guidelines recommend routine removal even if asymptomatic. This study aimed to systematically review the outcomes of expectant management for CBDS detected on operative cholangiography during cholecystectomy. MEDLINE, Embase and CINAHL databases were systematically searched. Participants were adult patients with CBDS identified by intraoperative cholangiography. Intervention was regarded as any perioperative effort to remove common bile duct stones, including endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), laparoscopic and open bile duct exploration. This was compared to observation. Outcomes of interest included rates of spontaneous stone passage, success of duct clearance and complications. Risk of bias was assessed using the ROBINS-I tool. Eight studies were included. All studies were non-randomized, heterogeneous and at serious risk of bias. In patients observed after a positive IOC, 20.9% went on to have symptomatic retained stones. In patients directed to ERCP for positive IOC, persistent CBDS were found in 50.6%. Spontaneous passage was not associated with stone size. Meta-analysis is dominated by the results from one large database, which recommends intervention for incidental stones, despite low rates of persistent stones seen at postoperative ERCP. Further evidence is required before a definitive recommendation on observation can be made. There is some evidence that asymptomatic stones may be safely observed. In clinical scenarios where the risks of biliary intervention are considered high, a conservative strategy could be more widely considered. © 2023 Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.


J Crichton, S Cox, C Tong, P Leow, X Field, F Welsh. Observation versus intervention for incidental common bile duct stones at intraoperative cholangiogram: a systematic review. ANZ journal of surgery. 2023 Jul-Aug;93(7-8):1839-1846

PMID: 37381094

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