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 and leads to scarring called cirrhosis.
The cause of inflamed bile ducts in the liver is not known. However, primary biliary cirrhosis is an autoimmune disorder. That means your body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue.
The disease more commonly affects middle-aged women.
More than half of patients have no symptoms at the time of diagnosis. Symptoms usually come on gradually and may include:
The doctor or nurse will perform a physical exam.
The following tests can check to see if your liver is working properly:
Other tests that can help diagnose this disease are:
The goal of treatment is to ease symptoms and prevent complications.
Cholestyramine (or colestipol) may reduce the itching. Ursodeoxycholic acid may improve removal of bile from the bloodstream may improve survival in some patients who have taken it for 4 years.
Vitamin replacement therapy restores vitamins A, K, and D, which are lost in fatty stools. A calcium supplement should be added to prevent or treat soft, weakened bones (osteomalacia).
Liver transplant before liver failure occurs may be successful.
The outcome can vary. If the condition is not treated, most patients will need a liver transplant to prevent death from this condition. About a quarter of patients who've had the disease for 10 years will experience liver failure. Doctors can now use a statistical model to predict the best time to do the transplant.
Progressive cirrhosis can lead to liver failure. Complications can include:
Call your health care provider if you have:
Afdhal NH. Diseases of the gallbladder and bile ducts. In:Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 158.
Mayo MJ. Natural history of primary biliary cirrhosis. Clin Liver Dis. 2008;12:277-288.