n South African Journal of Surgery - Endoscopic management of bile leaks after laparoscopic cholecystectomy : general surgery




A bile leak is an infrequent but potentially serious complication after biliary tract surgery. Endoscopic intervention is widely accepted as the treatment of choice. This study assessed the effectiveness of endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), sphincterotomy and biliary stenting in the management of postoperative bile leaks.

An ERCP database in a tertiary referral centre was reviewed retrospectively to identify all patients with bile leaks after laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Patient records and endoscopy reports were reviewed.
One hundred and thirteen patients (92 women, 21 men; median age 47 years, range 22 - 82 years) with a bile leak were referred for initial endoscopic management at a median of 12 days (range 2 - 104 days) after surgery. Presenting features included intra-abdominal collections with pain in 58 cases (51.3%), abnormal liver function tests (LFTs) in 22 (19.5%), bile leak in 25 (22.1%), and sepsis in 8 (7.1%). Twenty-nine patients (25.7%) were found to have either major bile duct injuries without duct continuity, vascular injuries or other endoscopic findings requiring surgical or radiological intervention. Of 84 patients managed endoscopically, 44 had a cystic duct (CD) leak, 26 a CD leak and common bile duct (CBD) stones, and 14 a CBD injury amenable to endoscopic stenting. Of the 70 patients with CD leaks (group A), 24 underwent sphincterotomy only (including 8 stone extractions), 43 had a sphincterotomy with stent placement (including 18 stone extractions) and 1 had only a stent placed, while 2 patients with previous sphincterotomies required no further intervention. The average number of ERCPs in group A was 2.3 (range 1 - 7). Of the 14 patients with bile duct injuries treated endoscopically (group B), 7 had a class D, 5 an E5 and 2 a class B injury; 13 patients underwent sphincterotomy and stenting, and 1 had a sphincterotomy only. Group B required an average of 3.6 ERCPs (range 2 - 5). The 113 patients underwent a total of 269 ERCPs (mean 2.4, range 1 - 7). Seven patients had one or more complications related to the ERCP: 3 acute pancreatitis, 2 cholangitis, 2 sphincterotomy bleeds, 1 duodenal perforation and 1 impacted Dormia basket, the latter 2 requiring operative intervention.
Three-quarters of bile leaks after laparoscopic cholecystectomy were due to CD leaks (with or without retained stones) or lesser bile duct injuries and were amenable to definitive endoscopic therapy. Nineteen patients (16.8%) had major injuries that required operative intervention.


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