The clinical syndromes caused by bile collections in the abdomen span a wide spectrum and their natural history and risks are not fully appreciated.
Analysis of 179 patients with bile fistulas after cholecystectomy, of which 154 patients had undrained bile collections.
To characterize the manifestations and natural history of abdominal bile collections.
A tertiary care teaching hospital.
Patients and Methods
The clinical findings in 179 patients with bile fistulas resulting from iatrogenic laparoscopic bile duct injuries and other miscellaneous operations between 1990 and 1999 were analyzed. The group of main interest consisted of 154 patients with undrained bile collections. Of these 154 patients, 21% had serious complications, including sepsis and multiorgan failure. The data were analyzed to identify the variables associated with this undesirable outcome.
Main Outcome Measures
Symptoms, physical findings, course of illness, and laboratory and imaging findings.
The clinical manifestations of intra-abdominal bile collections were initially discounted in 77% of patients, so the problem went unsuspected for a variable and often lengthy period. Abdominal pain and tenderness (bile peritonitis) gradually developed in 18% of patients with bile ascites. There were no differences in the initial clinical findings in this group compared with those who did not develop peritonitis. Nineteen percent of patients with undrained bile collections experienced serious morbidity. The initial clinical findings did not differ in these patients compared with those with a less complicated illness. Serious illness, however, was associated with the following: (1) a longer period of undrained bile (15.4 vs 9.2 days, P=.04) and (2) a higher incidence of infected bile (45% vs 7%, P=.001).
(1) Prominent abdominal pain and tenderness developed in only 21% of patients with abdominal bile collections; (2) the symptoms caused by bile collections were often subtle and their significance was overlooked, which resulted in a delay in diagnosis; (3) the early clinical findings could not distinguish patients who did become critically ill from those who did not; and (4) seriously ill patients more often had delayed drainage and infected bile. Still, failure to drain a bile collection within just 5 days resulted in serious illness in a few patients. Surgeons must watch for the clinical manifestations of bile ascites after laparoscopic cholecystectomy. This diagnosis should be suspected whenever persistent bloating and anorexia last for more than a few days; failure to recover as smoothly as expected is the most common early symptom of bile ascites. If bile collections were promptly diagnosed and drained, the rate of serious illness resulting from this complication would decline.