Background: Endoscopic sphincterotomy (EST) for the removal of bileduct stones is associated with acute complications and a permanent loss of biliary-sphincter function. Endoscopic balloon dilation (EBD) causes less trauma to the biliary sphincter, but may be less effective in allowing stone removal.
Methods: 218 consecutive patients with bileduct stones on endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) were enrolled. 202 who met all eligibility criteria were randomly assigned EST or EBD. The patients were observed in hospital for at least 24 h and followed up at 1 month and 6 months. Complications were classified by an expert panel unaware of treatment allocation and outcome. Analysis was done by intention to treat.
Findings: After a single ERCP, all stones were removed from 92 (91%) of 101 patients assigned EST and 90 (89%) of 101 assigned EBD (p = 0.81); in nine of the latter, successful removal required additional EST. Mechanical lithotripsy was used to fragment stones in 31 EBD procedures and 13 EST procedures (p < 0.005). Early complications (before 15 days) occurred in 24 EST patients and 17 EBD patients (p = 0.29). One patient died of retroperitoneal perforation after EBD. Four patients had bleeding after EST. Seven patients in each group had pancreatitis. Complications during follow-up occurred in 23 EST patients and 18 EBD patients (p = 0.48). Acute cholecystitis was observed in seven EST patients and one EBD patient (p < 0.05).
Interpretation: The success rate of EBD was similar to that of EST. We found there is no evidence of the previously suggested higher risk of pancreatitis with EBD and suggest that EBD is preferred in patients at risk of bleeding after EST. Preservation of biliary-sphincter function after EBD may prevent long-term complications and reduce the risk of acute cholecystitis during follow-up. This procedure is a valuable alternative to EST in patients with bileduct stones.