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Asymptomatic gallstones.

The increasing detection of asymptomatic gallstones leads to difficult decisions for the surgeon and patient about whether the stones should be managed expectantly or surgically. This review examines the evidence currently available upon which such decisions must be based. Gallstones may present as biliary pain, acute cholecystitis, biliary obstruction or pancreatitis, but it is not clear who will develop symptoms and what are the commonest initial symptoms. Studies of the natural history of silent gallstones suggest that a large majority of patients with such stones will remain asymptomatic. However, diabetics are at increased risk, as are patients whose stones are detected initially at laparotomy. Incidental cholecystectomy is usually safe, and preoperative detection by ultrasonic screening is an advantage in planning the operation. Prophylactic cholecystectomy is not indicated to prevent gallbladder carcinoma (except in cases of porcelain gallbladder) and there is conflicting evidence about whether cholecystectomy predisposes to colorectal carcinoma.

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