Although alternatives to cholecystectomy are now available to treat patients with gallstones, the primary treatment of gallstone disease remains surgical. It is therefore important to distinguish those patients who would benefit most from nonoperative therapy of gallstones from those who require cholecystectomy while ensuring patient safety. Current criteria for selection of patients for extracorporeal shock-wave lithotripsy (ESWL) are presented herein. In addition, preliminary results from recent in vitro experiments with human gallstones obtained at cholecystectomy are outlined. The current criteria for selection of patients for treatment with ESWL are similar to those used in the initial German experience. They appear to ensure patient safety, but the actual conditions that predict successful treatment of gallstones by ESWL are not yet known, since the clinical and in vitro studies which will define the patient and stone characteristics that predict a successful treatment outcome are still in progress. Thus, current criteria should be considered guidelines for treatment which will most certainly be modified as experience is gained with ESWL.
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