Extracorporeal shock-wave lithotripsy (ESWL) is an effective treatment in selected gallstone patients, but stone recurrence is a major drawback. Factors potentially influencing gallstone clearance and recurrence were studied in 84 patients in whom stone dissolution was diagnosed after ESWL plus bile salt therapy for initial solitary (n = 55) or multiple (n = 29) radiolucent stones. Apolipoprotein E (apoE) genotyping and gallbladder motility (sonography) were studied in a representative subgroup of patients (n = 50). The median follow-up after ESWL was 36 months (range, 4.5-67 months). Gallstone clearance was achieved after 8.7 months (range, 0.2-30 months). Independent factors significantly enhancing gallstone clearance were the presence of E4 allele; small initial gallstone size and number; effectiveness of fragmentation; and good gallbladder emptying (P = .002). Gallstone recurrence was seen in 30 patients after 18.6 months (range, 1.0-50 months). Cumulative gallstone recurrence rate (life-table analysis) was 15% within 1 year, increasing to 60% within 5.5 years. Although the probability of gallstone recurrence tended to be smaller in patients with initial solitary stones than in those with multiple stones during early follow-up, differences disappeared after long-term follow-up. Effective gallbladder emptying (residual volume < or = 6 mL) and apolipoprotein E4 (apoE4) independently influenced gallstone recurrence. Recurrence rate was higher (log rank test, P = .037) in those patients who were homozygous and heterozygous for the E4 allele compared with the individuals who were not expressing the apoE4 allele. Accordingly, there was an overrepresentation of the allele frequency for E4 in the group with gallstone recurrence (P = .03). Patients with small postprandial residual gallbladder volumes (≤ 6 mL) had a lower probability of stone recurrence than those with large residual gallbladder volumes (log rank test, P = .0215). Biliary pain was more frequent with recurrence (55% vs. 13%, P = .001). The present study indicates that apoE4 genotype is associated with increased speed of gallstone clearance as well as a high risk of recurrence after ESWL. This finding points to a possible role for genetic factors in the pathogenesis of cholesterol gallstones. Effective gallbladder emptying is important for speed of clearance and prevention of recurrence. Patients with initial solitary stones have a decreased early- but not long-term gallstone recurrence rate.
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