Non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs for biliary colic

Mirella Fraquelli, Giovanni Casazza, Dario Conte, Agostino Colli

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: Cholelithiasis refers to the presence of gallstones, which are concretions that form in the biliary tract, usually in the gallbladder. Cholelithiasis is one of the most common surgical problems worldwide and is particularly prevalent in most Western countries. Biliary colic is the term used for gallbladder pain experienced by a person with gallstones and without overt infection around the gallbladder. It is the most common manifestation of cholelithiasis, observed in over one-third of people with gallstones over the course of 10 or more years. Non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have been widely used to relieve biliary colic pain, but their role needs further elucidation. They may decrease the frequency of short-term complications, such as mild form of acute cholecystitis, jaundice, cholangitis, and acute pancreatitis, but they may also increase the occurrence of more severe and possibly life-threatening adverse events such as gastrointestinal bleeding, renal function impairment, cardiovascular events, or milder events such as abdominal pain, drowsiness, headache, dizziness, or cutaneous manifestations. Objectives: To assess the benefits and harms of NSAIDs in people with biliary colic. Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Controlled Trials Register, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) in the Cochrane Library, MEDLINE (Ovid SP), Embase (Ovid SP), Science Citation Index Expanded (Web of Science), and until July 2016. We applied no language limitation. Selection criteria: Randomised clinical trials recruiting participants presenting with biliary colic and comparing NSAIDs versus no intervention, placebo, or other drugs. Data collection and analysis: Two review authors (MF and AC) independently identified trials for inclusion. We used risk ratios (RR) to express intervention effect estimates, and we analysed the data with both fixed-effect and random-effects model meta-analyses, depending on the amount of heterogeneity. We controlled random errors with Trial Sequential Analysis. We assessed the methodological quality of the evidence using GRADE criteria. Main results: Twelve randomised clinical trials (RCTs) met our predefined review protocol criteria for analysis. We found only one trial to be at low risk of bias, considering the remaining trials to be at high risk of bias. The risk of selection bias in nine studies was unclear due to poor reporting, leading to uncertainty in the pooled effect estimates. Five trials compared NSAIDs versus placebo, four trials compared NSAID versus opioids, and four trials compared NSAID versus spasmolytic drugs (one of the 12 trials was a three-arm study comparing NSAIDs versus both opioids and spasmolytic drugs). There were 828 randomised participants (minimum 30 and maximum 324 per trial), of whom 416 received NSAIDs and 412 received placebo, spasmolytic drugs, or opioids. Twenty-four per cent of the participants were males. The age of the participants in the trials ranged from 18 to 86 years. All people were admitted to emergency departments for acute biliary pain. There was no mortality. When compared with placebo, NSAIDs obtained a significantly lower proportion of participants without complete pain relief (RR 0.27, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.19 to 0.40; I2 = 0%; 5 trials; moderate-quality evidence), which was confirmed by Trial Sequential Analysis, but not regarding participants with complications (RR 0.66, 95% CI 0.38 to 1.15; I2 = 26%; 3 trials; very low-quality evidence). NSAIDs showed more pain control than spasmolytic drugs (RR 0.51, 95% CI 0.37 to 0.71; I2 = 0%; 4 trials; low-quality evidence), which was not confirmed by Trial Sequential Analysis, and a significantly lower proportion of participants with complications (RR 0.27, 95% CI 0.12 to 0.57; I2 = 0%; 2 trials; low-quality evidence), which was also not confirmed by Trial Sequential Analysis. We found no difference in the proportions of participants without complete pain relief when comparing NSAIDs versus opioids (RR 0.98, 95% CI 0.47 to 2.07; I2 = 52%), suggesting moderate heterogeneity among trials (4 trials; very low-quality evidence). Only one trial comparing NSAIDs versus opioids reported results on complications, finding no significant difference between treatments. None of the included trials reported severe adverse events. Seven out of the 12 trials assessed non-severe adverse events: in two out of the seven trials, adverse events were not observed, and minor events were reported in the remaining five trials. In addition, we found one ongoing RCT assessing the analgesic efficacy of intravenous ibuprofen in biliary colic. Authors' conclusions: NSAIDs have been assessed in relatively few trials including a limited number of participants for biliary colic, considering its common occurrence. We found only one trial to be at low risk of bias. There was no mortality. None of the included trials reported quality of life. The generalisability of the review is low as most of the RCTs included neither elderly people nor participants with comorbidities, who are more prone to complications as compared to others with biliary colic. The beneficial effect of NSAIDs compared with placebo on pain relief was confirmed when we applied Trial Sequential Analysis. The quality of evidence according to GRADE criteria was moderate for the comparison of NSAIDs versus placebo regarding the outcome lack of pain relief and low or very low for the other outcomes and comparisons. We found only one trial at low risk of bias, following the predefined 'Risk of bias' domains. We found the risk of selection bias to be unclear in nine studies due to poor reporting, leading to uncertainty in the pooled effect estimates.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD006390
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 9 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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