Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Migration of gall stones.

Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1987; 294 doi: (Published 23 May 1987) Cite this as: Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1987;294:1320
  1. T V Taylor,
  2. C P Armstrong


    The factors influencing the migration of gall stones are ill understood. Altogether 331 patients undergoing cholecystectomy were studied prospectively. The diameters of the cystic and common bile ducts and of stones in the gall bladder and bile ducts were measured. Increasing pressure was applied to the freshly excised gall bladder in an attempt to evacuate stones through the cystic duct. Stones passed in 33 (60.0%) of patients with choledocholithiasis, 45 (67.2%) of patients with pancreatitis, and 7 (3.2%) of patients without either pancreatitis or choledocholithiasis. Stones migrated in 6 (3.0%) who had a normal cystic duct diameter (less than or equal to 4 mm) and in 46 (32.5%) with a duct over 4 mm diameter. Common bile duct stones were often larger than the diameter of the cystic duct and when reintroduced into the gall bladder would not migrate. The passage of debris (less than or equal to 1 mm) through the cystic duct bore no relation to the presence or absence of choledocholithiasis or a dilated cystic duct. Small stones (1-4 mm diameter) must migrate to initiate and facilitate further migration; some must increase in size in the common bile duct. Increased biliary pressure consequently dilates the duct system retrogradely, allowing larger stones to follow. Patients at risk of stone migration and thereby pancreatitis and jaundice have large ducts that can be detected by ultrasound assessment.