Nearly 10 per cent of gallstone operations involving keyhole surgery have complications, some fatal.
The operation known as endoscopic biliary sphincterotomy has become a common procedure since its introduction in 1974, with 150,000 carried out every year in the US alone.
But, of these, 5.4 per cent may result in pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), 2 per cent in hemorrhage, while other patients may die either directly or indirectly because of the operation.
Researchers from the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis made these alarming discoveries after studying 2,347 patients who had the operation.
The chance of complication can be as high as 21.7 per cent if the patient has sphincter problems, and at its lowest around 4.9 per cent if the operation is to remove gallstones.
One of the main factors for complications was the experience of the surgeon. Those who performed more than one endoscopy a week had complication rates of 8.4 per cent, against 11.1 per cent of those who carried out the procedure less frequently.
!AN Eng J Med, 1996; 335: 909-18.