Gallbladder empyema (suppurative cholecystitis1) is an uncommon complication of cholecystitis and refers to a situation where the gallbladder lumen is filled and distended by purulent material (pus).
There is an increased incidence in those with diabetes 2 and/or advanced atherosclerotic disease 7.
While patients with a gallbladder empyema may experience symptoms similar to those with acute uncomplicated cholecystitis (fever, chills, rigors, and right upper quadrant pain), signs of sepsis may not always be present.
The gallbladder neck is usually obstructed by a calculus (or rarely from a malignant mass such as an underlying cholangiocarcinoma) which prevents pus from draining through the cystic duct 5.
May show the the usual sonographic features of cholecystitis with added echogenic content within the gallbladder lumen (this feature is however not specific for an empyema). In cases of extensive calculous cholecystitis where gallstones fill the galbladder lumen it may be difficult to assess the echogenicity of bile and further cross sectional imaging may be required.
May show general imaging features of cholecystitis with added high-attenuating material (representing pus) within the distended gallbladder lumen. Again this feature is non specific and is often difficult to differentiate from sludge within the gallbladder.
MRI sometimes may be helpful in distinguishing pus from sludge by using heavily T2 weighted sequences, which may show fluid-fluid levels with dependent layering of purulent bile. On other MR seqences images, pus or purulent bile may be difficult to demonstrate 2. The purulent component is usually of lower signal on T2 weighted images 7-8.
Treatment and prognosis
Management options for suppurative cholecystitis include both emergent cholecystectomy and percutaneous catheter drainage, also termed percutaneous cholecystostomy (which can later be followed by a cholecystectomy) 1,5-6. The latter option is usually reserved those with additional co-morbidities 6. The rate of conversion of a laparoscopic cholecystectomy to an open procedure is considered greater than that with cases of uncomplicated acute cholecystitis. Gallbladder empyema is associated with a significant morbidity and mortality 9.
On imaging possible considerations include
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- 5. Gatenby P, Flook M, Spalding D et-al. Percutaneous transhepatic cholecystoduodenal stent for empyema of the gallbladder. Br J Radiol. 2009;82 (978): e108-10. doi:10.1259/bjr/23124841 - Pubmed citation
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- 8. Brant WE, Lange EE. Essentials of Body MRI. Oxford University Press, USA. (2012) ISBN:0199738491. Read it at Google Books - Find it at Amazon
- 9. Empyema of the gallbladder - a forgotten disease. Lancet. 1984;1 (8377): 606. Pubmed citation