Background: The fate of asymptomatic gallstones has not been investigated in many studies with a long-term follow-up. We wanted to examine the subsequent rate of cholecystectomy and gallstone-related symptoms in a population examined in 1983.
Methods: Among the persons examined in 1983, unknown (perceived as silent) gallstones were discovered in 20.1% (285/1417) persons. Owing to technical reasons, only 89.9% (1274 persons) of the original study population was retrieved for the present study. Of these, 19.2% (245 persons) had gallstones in 1983 [135 women (55.1%) and 110 men (44.9%), mean age in 1983: 49.9 and 51.3 years, respectively].
Results: Of the 154 still living persons with gallstones from 1983, 134 were traced for follow-up. Of these, 89 underwent a clinical examination and 45 answered a mail or telephone questionnaire. Ultrasonography revealed gallstones in 28.1% (25/89) and 6.7% (9/134) had had the gallbladder removed. 5.5% (5/91) of the deceased patients had had a cholecystectomy. Overall cholecystectomy rate was 6.2%. No link could be shown between the number and the size of gallstones in 1983 and the ultrasonographic demonstration of gallstones in 2007. 43.8% had abdominal pain, and 29.2% had functional abdominal complaints.
Conclusions: Unexpectedly, only a minority of persons examined with ultrasonography had present day gallstones without any obvious explanation for this low figure. The rate of cholecystectomy was low in a conservative setting and no adverse events could be ascertained from such a policy.