Hypothesis: Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is frequently used preoperatively in adult patients with suspected choledocholithiasis. Cholelithiasis occurs much less often in children, and the indications for ERCP are not established. We hypothesized that the natural history of choledocholithiasis in children is spontaneous passage of stones through the papilla and that these children can be managed without routine pre-operative ERCP. Design: Retrospective analysis of patients treated over a 10-year period. Setting: Tertiary care children's hospital. Patients: All patients with cholecystectomy for biliary disease. Interventions: Cholecystectomy; intraoperative cholangiography for suspected choledocholithiasis: hyperbilirubinemia, gallstone pancreatitis, and ultrasonographic evidence of common bile duct dilation or common bile duct stones; and postoperative ERCP for symptomatic choledocholithiasis: pain and jaundice. Main Outcome Measures: Incidence and complications of choledocholithiasis and frequency of ERCP. Results: One hundred patients (63 females) were studied. Indications included acute cholecystitis (10%), chronic cholecystitis (59%), gallstone pancreatitis (26%), and choledocholithiasis (5%). An intraoperative cholangiography was performed in 45 patients, and common bile duct stones were identified in 13. Expectant management of asymptomatic common bile duct stones was associated with sonographic resolution within 1 week. One patient with intraoperative cholangiography-proven choledocholithiasis required ERCP for symptoms 24 hours after operation. One additional patient, who did not undergo intraoperative cholangiography, developed symptomatic choledocholithiasis and required ERCP. There were no choledocholithiasis- or ERCP-related complications. Conclusion: This study suggests that choledocholithiasis occurs frequently in children and that spontaneous passage of common bile duct stones is common. This could explain the relatively high incidence of gallstone pancreatitis. Conservative management of choledocholithiasis is successful in the majority of patients. Routine preoperative or postoperative ERCP is usually not indicated.
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