Acute suppurative cholangitis is characterized by obstruction, inflammation, and pyogenic infection of the biliary tract associated with the clinical pentad of fever (and chills), jaundice, pain, shock, and central nervous system depression. The disease occurs most commonly in the elderly who have a history of calculous biliary tract disease. The disease represents a true surgical emergency. Appropriate antibiotic therapy and immediate surgical decompression of the biliary tract are essential and carry a mortality rate of approximately 33 per cent. Nonoperative management is uniformly fatal. If inadequately treated or untreated, the disease follows a fulminant course of progressive systemic sepsis, hepatic abscess formation, and hepatic failure leading ultimately to death. Acute suppurative cholangitis, the most serious sequela of calculous biliary tract disease, is preventable by early elective surgical treatment for benign biliary tract disease.
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