The safety and efficacy of laparoscopic cholecystectomy for acute cholecystitis were evaluated in a 2-year retrospective review. Results of laparoscopic cholecystectomy in 66 patients with acute inflammation of the gallbladder were compared with those of the standard open procedure for this condition (43 patients) and routine laparoscopic cholecystectomy (227 patients). The laparoscopic procedure for acute cholecystitis was successful in 46 of 66 patients. There was no difference in mean operating time when the inflamed gallbladder was removed laparoscopically or at open surgery (82 versus 84 min); however, each procedure took longer than did routine laparoscopic cholecystectomy (mean 69 min; P<0.01). There was no difference in analgesic requirement between patients who underwent laparoscopic removal of an acutely inflamed gallbladder and those in the other two groups. Postoperative recovery was significantly faster than-that after open surgery (P<0.01), but took longer than that following routine laparoscopic cholecystectomy (P<0.01). Inability to identify the cystic duct was the most common reason for conversion to open operation, which occurred in 20 cases of acute cholecystitis. Rile duct injury occurred in one of 66 patients with acute cholecystitis treated laparoscopically, two of 227 cases of routine laparoscopic cholecystectomy but in no patient who underwent open cholecystectomy. In conclusion, laparoscopic cholecystectomy is technically achievable in the majority of patients with acute cholecystitis. The conversion rate is high but, if the procedure is completed successfully, postoperative recovery is more rapid than that after open surgery. However, the method carries a higher incidence of complications and should be attempted only by experienced surgeons.