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Abstract

Whether ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) therapy alters the long-term clinical course of gallstones (GS) without stone dissolution remains unknown. We aimed to clarify the relationship between long-term UDCA therapy and risks of biliary pain or acute cholecystitis in GS patients. We also aimed to identify factors affecting the natural course, and to explore a simple patient selection criteria for UDCA therapy. A cohort of 527 uncomplicated GS patients with or without UDCA (600 mg/d) followed for up to 18 years was analyzed. Patients who had frequent attacks or were complicated with cholecystitis were converted to cholecystectomy. History and UDCA therapy were identified on Cox analysis as 2 factors affecting the long-term clinical course. In patients without therapy, history was the only predictor of biliary pain among various patient or stone characteristics; biliary pain was rare in asymptomatic patients, while frequent in symptomatic patients (P < .001). UDCA therapy was associated with reduced risk for biliary pain in both symptomatic (62% vs. 92% in untreated patients at 10 years; P < .001; relative risk, 0.19; 95% CI, 0.10-0.34) and asymptomatic patients (6% vs. 12% in untreated patients at 10 years; P = .037; relative risk, 0.19; 95% CI, 0.04-0.91). Risk for the conversion was also reduced in UDCA-treated symptomatic patients (26% vs. 88% in untreated patients at 10 years, P < .001; relative risk, 0.08; 95% CI, 0.03-0.22). These effects were independent of stone dissolution. Three factors were identified on Cox analysis as affecting GS dissolution: radiolucency, small size (<10 mm) of stones, and visualized gallbladder (GB) on cholecystogram. A selection criteria based on these appears to exhibit high sensitivity (74%) and specificity (95%) for dissolution. UDCA therapy might be considered in symptomatic patients fulfilling these criteria, and also in patients who have significant surgical risk, because the longterm therapy is clearly associated with reduced risk of biliary pain and acute cholecystitis