Health Illustrated Encyclopedia

Primary biliary cirrhosis

Definition

Primary biliary cirrhosis is irritation and swelling (inflammation) of the bile ducts of the liver, which blocks the flow of bile. This obstruction damages liver cells.

Alternative Names

PBC

Causes

The cause of inflamed bile ducts in the liver is not known. The disease more commonly affects middle-aged women.

Long-term bile obstruction is believed to lead to liver cirrhosis. The disease may be associated with autoimmune disorders such as:

Symptoms

Symptoms usually come on gradually and may include:

Exams and Tests

Tests for the disease:

Tests for liver dysfunction:

Treatment

Therapy aims to relieve symptoms and prevent complications.

Cholestyramine (or colestipol) may reduce the itching. Ursodeoxycholic acid may improve removal of bile from the bloodstream.

Vitamin replacement therapy restores vitamins A, K, and D, which are lost in fatty stools. A calcium supplement can help prevent soft, weakened bones (osteomalacia).

Liver transplant before liver failure occurs may be successful.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outcome can vary. If the condition is not treated, most patients will need a liver transplant after about 7 years. Doctors can now use statistics to predict the best time to do the transplant.

Possible Complications

Progressive cirrhosis can lead to liver failure. Complications can include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have:

References

Silveira MG. Treatment of primary biliary cirrhosis: therapy with choleretic and immunosuppressive agents. Clin Liver Dis. 2008;12:425-443.

Mavo MJ. Natural history of primary biliary cirrhosis. Clin Liver Dis. 2008;12:277-288.


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Review Date: 5/20/2008
Reviewed By: Christian Stone, MD, Division of Gastroenterology, Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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