Background: This review aims to establish whether increased use of invasive procedures and the trend toward conservative management of major trauma has resulted in an increased incidence of haemobilia.
Method: A Medline (http://igm.nlm.nih.gov/)-based search of the English language literature from January 1996 to December 1999 inclusive was performed using the keywords haemobilia, hemobilia, haematobilia and hematobilia. The presentation, aetiology, investigation, management and outcome of 222 cases were reviewed.
Results: Two-thirds of cases were iatrogenic while accidental trauma accounted for 5 per cent. Haemobilia may be major, constituting life-threatening haemorrhage, or minor; it may present many weeks after the initial injury. Diagnosis is most commonly confirmed by angiography. Management is aimed at stopping bleeding and relieving biliary obstruction; 43 per cent of cases were managed conservatively and 36 per cent were managed by transarterial embolization (TAE). Surgery was indicated when laparotomy was performed for other reasons and for failed TAE. The mortality rate was 5 per cent.
Conclusions: Although the incidence of iatrogenic haemobilia has risen considerably, the bleeding is often minor and can be managed conservatively. When more urgent intervention is required, TAE is usually the treatment of choice. There is no evidence that the conservative management of accidental liver trauma increases the risk of haemobilia.