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Cholecystectomy (//; plural: cholecystectomies) is the surgical removal of the gallbladder. It is a common treatment of symptomatic gallstones and other gallbladder conditions. Surgical options include the standard procedure, called laparoscopic cholecystectomy, and an older more invasive procedure, called open cholecystectomy.
Cholecystectomy is the recommended treatment the first time a person is admitted to hospital for cholecystitis. Cholecystitis may be acute or chronic, and may or may not involve the presence of gall stones. Risk factors for gall bladder cancer include a "porcelain gallbladder," or calcium deposits in the wall of the gall bladder, and an abnormal pancreatic duct.
Cholecystectomy can prevent the relapse of pancreatitis that is caused by gall stones that block the common bile duct.
Laparoscopic cholecystectomy has now replaced open cholecystectomy as the first-choice of treatment for gallstones and inflammation of the gallbladder unless there are contraindications to the laparoscopic approach. This is because open surgery leaves the patient more prone to infection. Sometimes, a laparoscopic cholecystectomy will be converted to an open cholecystectomy for technical reasons or safety.
Laparoscopic cholecystectomy requires several small incisions in the abdomen to allow the insertion of operating ports, small cylindrical tubes approximately 5 to 10 mm in diameter, through which surgical instruments and a video camera are placed into the abdominal cavity. The camera illuminates the surgical field and sends a magnified image from inside the body to a video monitor, giving the surgeon a close-up view of the organs and tissues. The surgeon watches the monitor and performs the operation by manipulating the surgical instruments through the operating ports.
To begin the operation, the patient is placed in the supine position on the operating table and anesthetized. A scalpel is used to make a small incision at the umbilicus. Using either a Veress needle or Hasson technique, the abdominal cavity is entered. The surgeon inflates the abdominal cavity with carbon dioxide to create a working space. The camera is placed through the umbilical port and the abdominal cavity is inspected. Additional ports are opened inferior to the ribs at the epigastric, midclavicular, and anterior axillary positions. The gallbladder fundus is identified, grasped, and retracted superiorly. With a second grasper, the gallbladder infundibulum is retracted laterally to expose and open Calot's Triangle (the area bound by the inferior border of the liver, cystic duct, and common hepatic duct). The triangle is gently dissected to clear the peritoneal covering and obtain a view of the underlying structures. The cystic duct and the cystic artery are identified, clipped with tiny titanium clips and cut. Then the gallbladder is dissected away from the liver bed and removed through one of the ports. This type of surgery requires meticulous surgical skill, but in straightforward cases, it can be done in about an hour.
Recently, this procedure is performed through a single incision in the patient's umbilicus. This advanced technique is called Laparoendoscopic Single Site Surgery or "LESS".
Procedural risks and complications
Laparoscopic cholecystectomy does not require the abdominal muscles to be cut, resulting in less pain, quicker healing, improved cosmetic results, and fewer complications such as infection and adhesions. Most patients can be discharged on the same or following day as the surgery, and can return to any type of occupation in about a week. Furthermore, flexible instruments are being used in laparoscopic surgery by some surgeons. Using the SPIDER surgical system, they can perform the cholecystectomy through a single incision through the navel. These patients often recover faster than traditional methods, and have an almost invisible scar.
An uncommon but potentially serious complication is injury to the common bile duct, which connects the cystic and common hepatic ducts to the duodenum. An injured bile duct can leak bile and cause a painful and potentially dangerous infection. Many cases of minor injury to the common bile duct can be managed non-surgically. Major injury to the bile duct, however, is a very serious problem and may require corrective surgery. This surgery should be performed by an experienced biliary surgeon.
Abdominal peritoneal adhesions, gangrenous gallbladders, and other problems that obscure vision are discovered during about 5% of laparoscopic surgeries, forcing surgeons to switch to the standard cholecystectomy for safe removal of the gallbladder. Adhesions and gangrene can be serious, but converting to open surgery does not equate to a complication.
A Consensus Development Conference panel, convened by the National Institutes of Health in September 1992, endorsed laparoscopic cholecystectomy as a safe and effective surgical treatment for gallbladder removal, equal in efficacy to the traditional open surgery. The panel noted, however, that laparoscopic cholecystectomy should be performed only by experienced surgeons and only on patients who have symptoms of gallstones.
In addition, the panel noted that the outcome of laparoscopic cholecystectomy is greatly influenced by the training, experience, skill, and judgment of the surgeon performing the procedure. Therefore, the panel recommended that strict guidelines be developed for training and granting credentials in laparoscopic surgery, determining competence, and monitoring quality. According to the panel, efforts should continue toward developing a noninvasive approach to gallstone treatment that will not only eliminate existing stones, but also prevent their formation or recurrence.
One common complication of cholecystectomy is inadvertent injury to analogous bile ducts known as Ducts of Luschka, occurring in 33% of the population. It is non-problematic until the gall bladder is removed, and the tiny supravesicular ducts may be incompletely cauterized or remain unobserved, leading to biliary leak post-operatively. The patient will develop biliary peritonitis within 5 to 7 days following surgery, and will require a temporary biliary stent. It is important that the clinician recognize the possibility of bile peritonitis early and confirm diagnosis via HIDA scan to lower morbidity rate. Aggressive pain management and antibiotic therapy should be initiated as soon as diagnosed.
During laparoscopic cholecystectomy, gallbladder perforation can occur due to excessive traction during retraction or during dissection from the liver bed. It can also occur during extraction from the abdomen. Infected bile, pigment gallstones, male gender, advanced age, perihepatic location of spilled gallstones, more than 15 gallstones and an average size greater than 1.5 cm have been identified as risk factors for complications. Spilled gallstones can be a diagnostic challenge and can cause significant morbidity to the patient. Clear documentation of spillage and explanation to the patient is of utmost importance, as this will enable prompt recognition and treatment of any complications. Prevention of spillage is the best policy.
After removal, the gallbladder should be sent for pathological examination to confirm the diagnosis and look for an incidental cancer. If cancer is present, a reoperation to remove part of the liver and lymph nodes will be required in most cases.
A minority of the population, from 5% to 40%, develop a condition called postcholecystectomy syndrome, or PCS. Symptoms can include gastrointestinal distress and persistent pain in the upper right abdomen.
As many as 20% of patients develop chronic diarrhea. The cause is unclear, but is presumed to involve the disturbance to the bile system. Most cases clear up within weeks or a few months, though in rare cases the condition may last for many years. It can be controlled with medication such as cholestyramine.
The most serious complication of cholecystectomy is damage to the common bile duct. This occurs in about 0.25% of cases. Damage to the duct that causes leakage typically manifests as fever, jaundice, and abdominal pain several days following cholecystectomy. A lacerated, leaky bile duct may be repaired through a procedure called ERCP, or endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography.
About 600,000 people receive a cholecystecomy in the United States each year.
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