Background: Gallbladder perforation during laparoscopic cholecystectomy (LC) with spillage of bile and gallstones occurs in a substantial number of patients (up to 40%). Most surgeons believe that free intraperitoneal stones are not a justification for conversion to laparotomy even if a large number of stones are left in situ. There are, however, a number of reports demonstrating that, on occasion, these unretrieved gallstones may cause infection or abscess, inflammation, fibrosis, adhesions, cutaneous sinuses, small bowel obstruction, or generalized septicemia. The aim of this study was to determine the outcome of unretrieved gallstones in the peritoneal cavity after gallbladder perforation during LC. Methods: In a 7-year period between 1989 and 1996, prospective data were maintained on 856 patients who underwent LCs by a single surgeon (R.J.F.). Of the 856 patients, 165 (16%) had gallbladder perforations resulting in lost gallstones in the peritoneal cavity. A concerted attempt was made to remove the lost stones using a variety of extraction devices. Of these 165 patients, 106 (64%) were available for follow-up through mail (76%) and by telephone (24%). The mean age of these patients was 64.9 years (range, 18 to 98 years), and the mean follow-up was 44.8 months (range 4.9 to 92.3 months). Results: Of the 106 patients with unretrieved gallstones, we identified four patients with short- term complications and one patient with a long-term complication. The first patient with a short-term complication had pyrexia for 10 days postoperatively. Diagnostic evaluation, which included computed tomography (CT) scan, failed to reveal any abnormality. The patient was treated conservatively with a course of oral antibiotics. In the second patient, cellulitis developed at a drain site after its removal, which resolved with oral antibiotics. The third patient acquired an umbilical wound abscess, which drained spontaneously, requiring no treatment. A sterile subphrenic collection developed in the fourth patient 1 month postoperatively, which was treated with percutaneous drainage under CT guidance. The only long-term complication was spontaneous erosion of a gallstone from the back of a patient with a questionable history of inflammatory bowel disease 8 months postoperatively. All of the patients made complete recoveries. Conclusions: In most patients, unretrieved gallstones are of no consequence, but complications occur occasionally. It is therefore advisable to retrieve as many gallstones as possible during LC short of converting to a laparotomy.
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