Background: Laparoscopic cholecystectomy (LC) has become the treatment of choice for elective cholecystectomy, but controversy persists over use of this approach in the treatment of acute cholecystitis. We undertook a randomised comparison of the safety and outcome of LC and open cholecystectomy (OC) in patients with acute cholecystitis.
Methods: 63 of 68 consecutive patients who met criteria for acute cholecystitis were randomly assigned OC (31 patients) or LC (32 patients). The primary endpoints were hospital mortality and morbidity, length of hospital stay, and length of sick leave from work. Analysis was by intention to treat. Suspected bile-duct stones were investigated by preoperative endoscopic retrograde cholangiography (LC group) or intraoperative cholangiography (OC group).
Findings: The two randomised groups were similar in demographic, physical, and clinical characteristics. 48% of the patients in the OC group and 59% in the LC group were older than 60 years. 13 patients in each group had gangrene or empyema, and one in each group had perforation of the gallbladder causing diffuse peritonitis. Five (16%) patients in the LC group required conversion to OC, in most because severe inflammation distorted the anatomy of Calot's triangle. There were no deaths or bile-duct lesions in either group, but the postoperative complication rate was significantly (p=0.0048) higher in the OC than in the LC group: seven (23%) patients had major and six (19%) minor complications after OC, whereas only one (3%) minor complication occurred after LC. The postoperative hospital stay was significantly shorter in the LC than the OC group (median 4 [IQR 2-5] vs 6 [5-8] days; p=0.0063). Mean length of sick leave was shorter in the LC group (13.9 vs 30.1 days; 95% CI for difference 10.9-21.7).
Interpretation: Even though LC for acute and gangrenous cholecystitis is technically demanding, in experienced hands it is safe and effective. It does not increase the mortality rate, and the morbidity rate seems to be even lower than that in OC. However, a moderately high conversion rate must be accepted.