Chronic cholecystitis

Last revised by Dr Jeremy Jones on 20 Sep 2021

Chronic cholecystitis refers to prolonged inflammatory condition that affects the gallbladder. It is almost always seen in the setting of cholelithiasis (95%), caused by intermittent obstruction of the cystic duct or infundibulum or dysmotility.

Patients may have a history of recurrent acute cholecystitis or biliary colic, although some may be asymptomatic.

Microscopically, there is evidence of chronic inflammation within the gallbladder wall.

  • gallbladder dysmotility may be present
  • there is a possible association between chronic cholecystitis and infection with Helicobacter pylori

The most commonly observed cross-sectional imaging findings in the setting of chronic cholecystitis are cholelithiasis and gallbladder wall thickening. The gallbladder may appear contracted or distended, and pericholecystic inflammation is usually absent.

Hepatobiliary scintigraphy may be required to distinguish acute from chronic cholecystitis and to evaluate gallbladder dysmotility by calculation of the gallbladder ejection fraction.

HIDA scan can be of particular benefit in cases where the diagnosis is uncertain and for differentiation from acute cholecystitis. Delayed visualization of the gallbladder between 1-4 hours is a reliable sign of chronic cholecystitis.

Chronic cholecystitis may be diagnosed by calculating the percentage of isotope excreted (ejection fraction) from the gallbladder following cholecystokinin or after a fatty meal.

Uncomplicated chronic cholecystitis is usually managed with elective cholecystectomy.

Recognized complications related to chronic cholecystitis include

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Cases and figures

  • Case 1
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  • Case 2: Chronic acalculous cholecystitis
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