Gallbladder sludge: what is its clinical significance?

Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2001 Apr;3(2):166-73. doi: 10.1007/s11894-001-0015-6.


Biliary sludge is a mixture of particulate solids that have precipitated from bile. Such sediment consists of cholesterol crystals, calcium bilirubinate pigment, and other calcium salts. Sludge is usually detected on transabdominal ultrasonography. Microscopy of aspirated bile and endoscopic ultrasonography are far more sensitive. Biliary sludge is associated with pregnancy; with rapid weight loss, particularly in the obese; with critical illness involving low or absent oral intake and the use of total parenteral nutrition (TPN); and following gastric surgery. It is also associated with biliary stones with common bile duct obstruction; with certain drugs, such as ceftriaxone and octreotide; and with bone marrow or solid organ transplantation. The clinical course of biliary sludge varies. It often vanishes, particularly if the causative event disappears; other cases wax and wane, and some go on to gallstones. Complications caused by biliary sludge include biliary colic, acute cholangitis, and acute pancreatitis. Asymptomatic patients with sludge or microlithiasis require no therapy. When patients are symptomatic or if complications arise, cholecystectomy is indicated. For the elderly or those at risk from the surgery, endoscopic sphincterotomy can prevent recurrent episodes of pancreatitis. Medical therapy is limited, although some approaches may show promise in the future.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bile / diagnostic imaging
  • Bile / metabolism*
  • Bile Duct Diseases / diagnosis
  • Bile Duct Diseases / metabolism
  • Bile Duct Diseases / therapy
  • Cholelithiasis / diagnosis*
  • Cholelithiasis / metabolism
  • Cholelithiasis / therapy*
  • Endoscopy, Digestive System
  • Endosonography
  • Gallbladder / diagnostic imaging
  • Gallbladder / metabolism*
  • Humans