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Acute CholecystitisA Review

Educational Objective
To identify the key insights or developments described in this article
1 Credit CME

Importance  Gallbladder disease affects approximately 20 million people in the US. Acute cholecystitis is diagnosed in approximately 200 000 people in the US each year.

Observations  Gallstone-associated cystic duct obstruction is responsible for 90% to 95% of the cases of acute cholecystitis. Approximately 5% to 10% of patients with acute cholecystitis have acalculous cholecystitis, defined as acute inflammation of the gallbladder without gallstones, typically in the setting of severe critical illness. The typical presentation of acute cholecystitis consists of acute right upper quadrant pain, fever, and nausea that may be associated with eating and physical examination findings of right upper quadrant tenderness. Ultrasonography of the right upper quadrant has a sensitivity of approximately 81% and a specificity of approximately 83% for the diagnosis of acute cholecystitis. When an ultrasound result does not provide a definitive diagnosis, hepatobiliary scintigraphy (a nuclear medicine study that includes the intravenous injection of a radiotracer excreted in the bile) is the gold standard diagnostic test. Following diagnosis, early (performed within 1-3 days) vs late (performed after 3 days) laparoscopic cholecystectomy is associated with improved patient outcomes, including fewer composite postoperative complications (11.8% for early vs 34.4% for late), a shorter length of hospital stay (5.4 days vs 10.0 days), and lower hospital costs. During pregnancy, early laparoscopic cholecystectomy, compared with delayed operative management, is associated with a lower risk of maternal-fetal complications (1.6% for early vs 18.4% for delayed) and is recommended during all trimesters. In people older than 65 years of age, laparoscopic cholecystectomy is associated with lower mortality at 2-year follow-up (15.2%) compared with nonoperative management (29.3%). A percutaneous cholecystostomy tube, in which a drainage catheter is placed in the gallbladder lumen under image guidance, is an effective therapy for patients with an exceptionally high perioperative risk. However, percutaneous cholecystostomy tube placement in a randomized trial was associated with higher rates of postprocedural complications (65%) compared with laparoscopic cholecystectomy (12%). For patients with acalculous acute cholecystitis, percutaneous cholecystostomy tube should be reserved for patients who are severely ill at the time of diagnosis; all others should undergo a laparoscopic cholecystectomy.

Conclusions and Relevance  Acute cholecystitis, typically due to gallstone obstruction of the cystic duct, affects approximately 200 000 people in the US annually. In most patient populations, laparoscopic cholecystectomy, performed within 3 days of diagnosis, is the first-line therapy for acute cholecystitis.

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Article Information

Corresponding Author: Anthony Charles, MD, MPH, Department of Surgery, University of North Carolina, 4008 Burnett Womack Bldg, CB 7228, Chapel Hill, NC 27599 (anthony_charles@med.unc.edu).

Accepted for Publication: February 7, 2022.

Author Contributions: Dr Charles had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

Concept and design: All authors.

Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: All authors.

Drafting of the manuscript: All authors.

Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: All authors.

Statistical analysis: Gallaher.

Administrative, technical, or material support: All authors.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

Disclaimer: Dr Charles is an Associate Editor of JAMA, but he was not involved in any of the decisions regarding review of the manuscript or its acceptance.

Additional Contributions: We thank Charlotte Smith, a second-year medical student at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, for her original artistic rendering of the pathogenesis of acute cholecystitis.

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AMA CME Accreditation Information

Credit Designation Statement: The American Medical Association designates this Journal-based CME activity activity for a maximum of 1.00  AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

Successful completion of this CME activity, which includes participation in the evaluation component, enables the participant to earn up to:

  • 1.00 Medical Knowledge MOC points in the American Board of Internal Medicine's (ABIM) Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program;;
  • 1.00 Self-Assessment points in the American Board of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery’s (ABOHNS) Continuing Certification program;
  • 1.00 MOC points in the American Board of Pediatrics’ (ABP) Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program;
  • 1.00 Lifelong Learning points in the American Board of Pathology’s (ABPath) Continuing Certification program; and
  • 1.00 CME points in the American Board of Surgery’s (ABS) Continuing Certification program

It is the CME activity provider's responsibility to submit participant completion information to ACCME for the purpose of granting MOC credit.

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