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Biliary sludge: the sluggish gallbladder

      Abstract

      Biliary sludge is a mixture of particulate matter which has precipitated from bile. It generally consists of cholesterol monohydrate crystals, calcium bilirubinate or other calcium salts. In a clinical setting, biliary sludge is almost always an ultrasonographic diagnosis. Although it is less clinically applicable, direct microscopic examination of gallbladder bile is far more sensitive than ultrasonography into sludge detection, and has to be regarded as the diagnostic gold standard. The overall prevalence of sludge in the general population is relatively low. However, several clinical conditions are associated with a particularly high prevalence of biliary sludge, including pregnancy, rapid weight loss, total parenteral nutrition, octreotide therapy, bone marrow or solid organ transplantation. The clinical course of biliary sludge varies, and complete resolution, a waxing and waning course, and progression to gallstones are all possible outcomes. It may cause complications usually associated with gallstones, such as biliary colic, acute cholecystitis, and acute pancreatitis. The main pathogenic mechanism involved in sludge formation is probably gallbladder dismotility, and in selected patients measures aimed to maintain adequate gallbladder contractions has been shown to effectively prevent sludge development.

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