Transvaginal Cholecystectomy

Updated: Nov 06, 2023
  • Author: Kurt E Roberts, MD; Chief Editor: Vikram Kate, MBBS, MS, PhD, FACS, FACG, FRCS, FRCS(Edin), FRCS(Glasg), FFST(Ed), FIMSA, MAMS, MASCRS  more...
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From the first open cholecystectomy performed in 1882 by Langenbuch [1] to the first laparoscopic cholecystectomy performed by Mühe in 1985 [2] to the culdolaparoscopic cholecystectomy performed by Tsin et al in 1999 [3] to the transvaginal cholecystectomy performed by Zorrón et al in 2007, [4] the treatment of symptomatic gallbladder disease has come a long way.

Kalloo et al are credited with the first description of a natural orifice transluminal endoscopic surgery (NOTES) procedure in 2004, [5] in which they described its safety and feasibility in a porcine model. Since then, multiple NOTES procedures have been performed, and this technique has been steadily increasing in popularity. At present, the most commonly performed NOTES procedure is transvaginal cholecystectomy. [6, 7]

Laparoscopic cholecystectomy currently is the most commonly performed surgical procedure for symptomatic gallbladder disease. Given the rapidly changing face of surgery today, NOTES cholecystectomy may be the wave of the future. The transition from open to laparoscopic and then to minimally invasive single-port surgery has been associated with a marked reduction in the degree of invasiveness, and NOTES surgery represents the next step in the evolution of surgical technique. [8, 9]

With the instrumentation currently available, pure NOTES transvaginal cholecystectomies can be cumbersome, which is why a hybrid transvaginal NOTES procedure is described in this article.



Indications for transvaginal cholecystectomy include the following:

  • Symptomatic cholelithiasis
  • Gallstone ileus with cholecystoduodenal fistula - A few reports of treatment with hybrid NOTES technique are available in the literature [10]


Absolute contraindications for transvaginal cholecystectomy include the following:

  • Evidence of gangrenous cholecystitis
  • Pregnancy
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) classification 3 or 4

Relative contraindications have included a history of pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, retroflexed uterus, or previous abdominal surgery.

Patients with contraindications should be excluded, and a conventional laparoscopic cholecystectomy should be performed. Contraindications are likely to evolve as cholecystectomy via NOTES advances and gains momentum and surgeon expertise increases.

In a retrospective analysis of prospectively collected data, Bulian et al found that whereas a previous hysterectomy did increase the difficulty of transvaginal/transumbilical hybrid NOTES cholecystectomy, it did not have a major impact on intraoperative and postoperative complication rates. [11]

Transvaginal hybrid NOTES procedures have not been shown to have any negative impact on conception, pregnancy, or delivery. [12]


Technical Considerations


The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ situated on the undersurface of the liver in a fossa corresponding to segments 4 and 5 and at the lower limit of the Cantlie line (an imaginary line running from the middle of the gallbladder anteriorly to the inferior vena cava posteriorly). It occupies a variable position in relation to the liver and thus may be partially or completely embedded within the liver parenchyma (the so-called intrahepatic gallbladder); this may create difficulties in dissection and may increase the risk of intraoperative liver injury.

Large portal and hepatic venous branches traverse the liver at a depth of around 1 cm from the gallbladder; thus, a deep liver tear during the dissection of the gallbladder off its fossa can occasionally bleed profusely. Therefore, it is important to err on the side of the gallbladder rather than the liver parenchyma during dissection.

The gallbladder is divided into a fundus, a body, and a neck or infundibulum. The Hartmann pouch, an outpouching of the wall in the region of the neck, varies in size; a large Hartmann pouch may obscure the cystic duct and the Calot triangle. If a small cystic duct is hidden in this way and traction is placed on the gallbladder, the common bile duct (CBD) may be mistaken for the cystic duct, which can result in disastrous consequences.

The cystic duct joins the gallbladder to the CBD. It generally ranges from 2 to 4 cm in length; however, its length may be highly variable, and it may run a straight or a fairly convoluted course. It is usually 2-3 mm wide but may be dilated in the presence of pathology (stones or passed stones). The normal bile duct is also around 5 mm and hence can look like a mildly dilated cystic duct. It is therefore of utmost importance to properly identify both structures.

The cystic artery is a branch of the right hepatic artery (RHA) that is usually given off in the Calot triangle and enters the gallbladder in the neck or body area. The course and length of the cystic artery in the Calot triangle vary. Although the artery typically traverses the triangle almost in its center, it can occasionally be very close or even lower than the cystic duct.

The RHA normally courses behind the bile duct. It may come very close to the gallbladder and the cystic duct in the form of the “caterpillar” or “Moynihan” hump. In this case, the cystic artery is usually short. In this situation, the RHA is liable to be mistakenly identified as the cystic artery or torn in an attempt to ligate the cystic artery.

The Calot triangle was originally described by Calot in 1891 as being bound by the cystic duct, the common hepatic duct (CHD), and the cystic artery. However, in its present interpretation, the upper border is formed by the inferior surface of the liver, with the other two boundaries being the cystic duct (lateral) and the CBD (medial). Its contents usually include the RHA, the cystic artery, the cystic lymph node (Calot node), connective tissue, and lymphatics. In some cases, it contains accessory hepatic ducts and arteries.

It is this triangular space that is dissected during cholecystectomy to identify the cystic artery and cystic duct before ligation and division. In reality, it may be a small potential space rather than a large triangle.

Best practices

If intraoperative complications arise during a transvaginal cholecystectomy, understanding when to convert to a conventional laparoscopic technique is of the utmost importance; appropriate conversion shows good surgical judgment.



Transvaginal cholecystectomy reduces postoperative pain, eliminates skin infections and incisional hernias, and improves cosmesis, allowing a faster return to daily activities, faster return to work, and overall decreased health care cost.

One of the main advantages of transvaginal cholecystectomy is decreased postoperative pain. The authors of this article have observed this benefit in their patients, and transvaginal hysterectomies compare favorably to abdominal hysterectomies regarding pain in the gynecologic literature. [13, 14]

The absence of a skin incision prevents all complications associated with skin incisions. In addition to preventing pain, the elimination of skin infections, abdominal wall hernias, and aesthetic deformities is also a potential advantage.

Patients who undergo NOTES procedures also have a faster return to daily activities, faster return to work, and reduced health care costs compared to the laparoscopic technique. [15]

Rössler et al evaluated the outcome and safety of 571 hybrid transvaginal NOTES cholecystectomies performed over a period of 9 years. [16] At discharge, 6.7% of patients had developed at least one complication; at 30 and 90 days, complication rates were 10.7% and 11%, respectively. The incidence of major complications was 1.6%, and emergency reoperation was required in four patients. No mortality was reported. 

There are reports demonstrating no significant difference in safety between NOTES cholecystectomy and laparoscopic cholecystectomy. [17, 18, 19] Despite good reported results, there are reports of apprehension about performing transvaginal cholecystectomy, attributable to limited awareness of the procedure. [20]

In an observational study by Ansari et al, conventional four-port cholecystectomy (n = 122) was compared with hybrid transvaginal NOTES cholecystectomy (TV NOTES-C; n = 108) in terms of intraoperative factors, postoperative pain, analgesic requirements, duration of hospital stay, time to return to normal activities, cosmesis, and patient satisfaction. [21]  Patients in the hybrid TV NOTES-C group had less postoperative pain and lower analgesic requirements, were more often discharged within 12 hours, returned more quickly to daily activities, had better cosmetic results, and reported greater satisfaction.