Asymptomatic Gallstones (AsGS) – To Treat or Not to?
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- Behari, A. & Kapoor, V.K. Indian J Surg (2012) 74: 4. doi:10.1007/s12262-011-0376-5
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With ready availability of abdominal ultrasound, asymptomatic gallstones (AsGS) are being diagnosed with increasing frequency. Management decisions need to take into account the natural history of AsGS as well as the risks of cholecystectomy. Long-term follow up studies from the West have consistently shown that only a small minority of asymptomatic gallstones lead to development of symptoms or complications. Some sub-groups of patients (eg those with chronic hemolytic syndromes) have been shown to be at a higher risk of developing symptoms and complications and prophylactic cholecystectomy has been advised for them. Clear division of patients into low or high risk categories is still far from ideal and better identification of risk factors and risk stratification is needed. Overall, both open and laparoscopic cholecystectomy, are generally safe procedures. However, the incidence of bile duct injury (with all its serious consequences) continues to be higher with laparoscopic cholecystectomy and this should receive due consideration before offering prophylactic cholecystectomy to an asymptomatic patient who is not expected to receive any clinical benefit from it. Gallbladder cancer is rare in most of the developed world and prophylactic cholecystectomy has generally not been recommended to prevent development of GBC. Considering the wide geographical/ethnic variation in incidence of GBC across the world and the strong association of GBC with gallstones, it may not be prudent to extrapolate the results of studies of natural history of AsGS from one part of the world to another. Since northern India has one of the highest incidences of GBC in the world, it is imperative to have data on natural history of AsGS in patients from this area to allow formulation of precise guidelines for management of AsGs.