We're unable to sign you in at this time. Please try again in a few minutes.
We were able to sign you in, but your subscription(s) could not be found. Please try again in a few minutes.
There may be a problem with your account. Please contact the AMA Service Center to resolve this issue.
Contact the AMA Service Center:
Telephone: 1 (800) 262-2350 or 1 (312) 670-7827  *   Email: subscriptions@jamanetwork.com
Error Message ......
The Rational Clinical Examination |

Does This Patient Have Acute Cholecystitis?

Robert L. Trowbridge, MD; Nicole K. Rutkowski, MD; Kaveh G. Shojania, MD
JAMA. 2003;289(1):80-86. doi:10.1001/jama.289.1.80.
Text Size: A A A
Published online

Context Although few patients with acute abdominal pain will prove to have cholecystitis, ruling in or ruling out acute cholecystitis consumes substantial diagnostic resources.

Objective To determine if aspects of the history and physical examination or basic laboratory testing clearly identify patients who require diagnostic imaging tests to rule in or rule out the diagnosis of acute cholecystitis.

Data Sources Electronic search of the Science Citation Index, Cochrane Library, and English-language articles from January 1966 through November 2000 indexed in MEDLINE. We also hand-searched Index Medicus for 1950-1965, and scanned references in identified articles and bibliographies of prominent textbooks of physical examination, surgery, and gastroenterology. To identify relevant articles appearing since the comprehensive search, we repeated the MEDLINE search in July 2002.

Study Selection Included studies evaluated the role of the history, physical examination, and/or laboratory tests in adults with abdominal pain or suspected acute cholecystitis. Studies had to report data from a control group found not to have acute cholecystitis. Acceptable definitions of cholecystitis included surgery, pathologic examination, hepatic iminodiacetic acid scan or right upper quadrant ultrasound, or clinical course consistent with acute cholecystitis and no evidence for an alternate diagnosis. Studies of acalculous cholecystitis were included. Seventeen of 195 identified studies met the inclusion criteria.

Data Extraction Two authors independently abstracted data from the 17 included studies. Disagreements were resolved by discussion and consensus with a third author.

Data Synthesis No clinical or laboratory finding had a sufficiently high positive likelihood ratio (LR) or low negative LR to rule in or rule out the diagnosis of acute cholecystitis. Possible exceptions were the Murphy sign (positive LR, 2.8; 95% CI, 0.8-8.6) and right upper quadrant tenderness (negative LR, 0.4; 95% CI, 0.2-1.1), though the 95% CIs for both included 1.0. Available data on diagnostic confirmation rates at laparotomy and test characteristics of relevant radiological investigations suggest that the diagnostic impression of acute cholecystitis has a positive LR of 25 to 30. Unfortunately, the available literature does not identify the specific combinations of clinical and laboratory findings that presumably account for this diagnostic success.

Conclusions No single clinical finding or laboratory test carries sufficient weight to establish or exclude cholecystitis without further testing (eg, right upper quadrant ultrasound). Combinations of certain symptoms, signs, and laboratory results likely have more useful LRs, and presumably inform the diagnostic impressions of experienced clinicians. Pending further research characterizing the pretest probabilities associated with different clinical presentations, the evaluation of patients with abdominal pain suggestive of cholecystitis will continue to rely heavily on the clinical gestalt and diagnostic imaging.

Sign in

Purchase Options

• Buy this article
• Subscribe to the journal
• Rent this article ?




Also Meets CME requirements for:
Browse CME for all U.S. States
Accreditation Information
The American Medical Association is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. The AMA designates this journal-based CME activity for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM per course. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. Physicians who complete the CME course and score at least 80% correct on the quiz are eligible for AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM.
Note: You must get at least of the answers correct to pass this quiz.
Please click the checkbox indicating that you have read the full article in order to submit your answers.
Your answers have been saved for later.
You have not filled in all the answers to complete this quiz
The following questions were not answered:
Sorry, you have unsuccessfully completed this CME quiz with a score of
The following questions were not answered correctly:
Commitment to Change (optional):
Indicate what change(s) you will implement in your practice, if any, based on this CME course.
Your quiz results:
The filled radio buttons indicate your responses. The preferred responses are highlighted
For CME Course: A Proposed Model for Initial Assessment and Management of Acute Heart Failure Syndromes
Indicate what changes(s) you will implement in your practice, if any, based on this CME course.


Some tools below are only available to our subscribers or users with an online account.

102 Citations

Sign in

Purchase Options

• Buy this article
• Subscribe to the journal
• Rent this article ?

Related Content

Customize your page view by dragging & repositioning the boxes below.

See Also...
Articles Related By Topic
Related Collections
PubMed Articles

The Rational Clinical Examination: Evidence-Based Clinical Diagnosis
Acute Cholecystitis

The Rational Clinical Examination: Evidence-Based Clinical Diagnosis
Make the Diagnosis: Acute Cholecystitis