The operative management of gallstone ileus

Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 2010 May;92(4):279-81. doi: 10.1308/003588410X12664192076377.


Introduction: Gallstone ileus is an uncommon entity, which accounts for 1-4% of all presentations to hospital with small bowel obstruction and for up to 25% of all cases in patients over 65 years of age. Despite medical advances over the last 350 years, gallstone ileus is still associated with high rates of morbidity and mortality. The management of gallstone ileus remains controversial. Whilst open surgery has been the mainstay of treatment, more recently other approaches have been employed, including laparoscopic surgery and lithotripsy. However, controversy persists primarily in relation to the extent of surgery performed.

Materials and methods: A literature review was performed in an attempt to discover the optimal surgical treatment of gallstone ileus, particularly the timing of biliary surgery. Published articles were identified from the medical literature by electronic searches of Pubmed and Ovid Medline databases, using the search terms 'gallstone ileus', 'gallstone/intestinal obstruction' and 'gallstone/bowel obstruction'. The related articles function of the search engines was also used to maximise the number of articles identified. Relevant articles were retrieved and additional articles were identified from the references cited in these articles.

Results and conclusions: The literature on gallstone ileus is composed entirely of retrospective analysis of small numbers of patients accumulated over many years. The question as to whether one stage or interval biliary surgery should be performed remains unanswered and it is unlikely that further case series will help decision making in the management of gallstone ileus. Whilst many authors conclude that enterolithotomy alone is the best option in most patients, a one-stage procedure should be considered for low-risk patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Gallstones / complications
  • Gallstones / diagnosis
  • Gallstones / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Ileus / diagnosis
  • Ileus / etiology
  • Ileus / surgery*
  • Laparoscopy
  • Prognosis