A proposed difficulty grading system for laparoscopic bile duct exploration: benefits to clinical practice, training and research

Ahmad H. M. Nassar (Lead / Corresponding author), Mahmoud Sallam, Khurram S. Khan, Rhona Kilpatrick, Samer Zino, Tarek Z. Katbeh

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Background: A gap remains between the mounting evidence for single session management of bile duct stones and the adoption of this approach. Laparoscopic bile duct exploration (LBDE) is limited by the scarcity of training opportunities and adequate equipment and by the perception that the technique requires a high skill-set. The aim of this study was to create a new classification of difficulty based on operative characteristics and to stratify postoperative outcomes of easy vs. difficult LBDE irrespective of the surgeon's experience.

Methods: A cohort of 1335 LBDEs was classified according to the location, number and size of ductal stones, the retrieval technique, utilisation of choledochoscopy and specific biliary pathologies encountered. A combination of features indicated easy (Grades I and II A & B) or difficult (Grades III A and B, IV and V) transcystic or transcholedochal explorations.

Results: 78.3% of patients with acute cholecystitis or pancreatitis, 37% with jaundice and 46% with cholangitis had easy explorations. Difficult explorations were more likely to present as emergencies, with obstructive jaundice, previous sphincterotomy and dilated bile ducts on ultrasound scans. 77.7% of easy explorations were transcystic and 62.3% of difficult explorations transductal. Choledochoscopy was utilised in 23.4% of easy vs. 98% of difficult explorations. The use of biliary drains, open conversions, median operative time, biliary-related complications, hospital stay, readmissions, and retained stones increased with the difficulty grade. Grades I and II patients had 2 or more hospital episodes in 26.5% vs. 41.2% for grades III to V. There were 2 deaths in difficulty Grade V and one in Grade IIB.

Conclusion: Difficulty grading of LBDE is useful in predicting outcomes and facilitating comparison between studies. It ensures fair structuring and assessment of training and progress of the learning curve. LBDEs were easy in 72% with 77% completed transcystically. This may encourage more units to adopt this approach.

Original languageEnglish
Article number7012–7023
Number of pages12
JournalSurgical Endoscopy
Early online date22 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023


  • Laparoscopic bile duct exploration
  • Difficulty grading
  • Tranascystic
  • Choledochotomy
  • Impacted bile duct stones
  • Choledochoscopy
  • Wiper Blade Manoeuvre WBM


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