In a randomized controlled trial, 299 patients were sent a symptoms questionnaire 1 year after laparoscopic (n = 151) or minilaparotomy (n = 148) cholecystectomy for symptomatic cholelithiasis. The response rate to the questionnaire from contactable patients was 86 per cent. In both groups, at least 90 per cent of patients reported that their symptoms were improved, and at least 93 per cent rated the success of their operation as 'excellent', 'good', or 'fair'. However, over half the patients reported abdominal pain, a quarter reported flatulence, and a quarter dyspepsia. The only difference between treatment groups was that a higher proportion of patients who underwent minilaparotomy reported heartburn (35 per cent versus 19 per cent, P = 0.005). Patients who reported a 'poor' outcome were more likely to have suffered a postoperative complication, had lower quality of life scores, and higher anxiety and depression scores. Both laparoscopic and minilaparotomy cholecystectomy result in symptomatic benefit in at least 90 per cent of patients with symptomatic cholelithiasis.