The Emergency Medicine−Focused Review of Cholangitis

Rachel Ely, Brit Long, Alex Koyfman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Background Cholangitis is a life-threatening infection of the biliary tract. Historically, the mortality secondary to cholangitis approached 100%. However, with early recognition, antibiotics, resuscitation, and surgical or endoscopic intervention, patient outcomes have significantly improved, although there is still progress to be made. Objective of Review The objective of this review is to provide an emergency medicine−centered approach to the risk factors, presentations, and various diagnostic and treatment modalities in cholangitis. Discussion Early recognition and treatment of cholangitis in the emergency department is instrumental in ensuring a favorable outcome for patients. Recognition of acute cholangitis can be challenging, as many patients do not present with the classic symptoms of Charcot's triad. This article reviews the risk factors in cholangitis, as well as the typical presentations and necessary diagnostic studies. Furthermore, once diagnosis is made, distinguishing those requiring emergent biliary decompression from those who may tolerate a delayed procedure can also be difficult. Scoring systems that attempt to identify patients who may tolerate a delayed approach have yet to be validated. This review discusses the appropriate antibiotic therapy based on most common pathogens, as well as the options for achieving biliary decompression. Conclusions Cholangitis is a life-threatening infection that carries a high likelihood of poor outcomes if not treated early and aggressively in the emergency department. Appropriate recognition, early broad-spectrum antibiotics, and fluid resuscitation are paramount, and in patients with severe disease, early biliary decompression will significantly reduce mortality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)64-72
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018


  • Charcot's triad
  • Reynold's pentad
  • biliary obstruction
  • cholangitis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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