Definition

What is primary sclerosing cholangitis?

Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) is a disease that damages and blocks bile ducts inside and outside the liver. Bile is a liquid made in the liver. Bile ducts are tubes that carry bile out of the liver to the gallbladder and small intestine. In the intestine, bile helps break down fat in food.

In PSC, inflammation of the bile ducts leads to scar formation and narrowing of the ducts over time. As scarring increases, the ducts become blocked. As a result, bile builds up in the liver and damages liver cells. Eventually, scar tissue can spread throughout the liver, causing cirrhosis and liver failure.

How common is primary sclerosing cholangitis?

Sclerosing cholangitis is rare. It is more common in men than women.   Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of primary sclerosing cholangitis?

The common symptoms of primary sclerosing cholangitis are:

  • Fatigue
  • Itching
  • Pain in the upper right part of the abdomen
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Night sweats
  • Enlarged liver
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Weight loss
  • Yellow eyes and skin (jaundice)

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes primary sclerosing cholangitis?

It’s not clear what causes primary sclerosing cholangitis. An immune system reaction to an infection or toxin may trigger the disease in people who are genetically predisposed to it.

A large proportion of people with primary sclerosing cholangitis also have inflammatory bowel disease, an umbrella term that includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Primary sclerosing cholangitis and inflammatory bowel disease don’t always appear at the same time, though. In some cases, primary sclerosing cholangitis is present for years before inflammatory bowel disease occurs. If primary sclerosing cholangitis is diagnosed, it’s important to look for inflammatory bowel disease because there is a greater risk of colon cancer.

Somewhat less often, people being treated for inflammatory bowel disease turn out to have primary sclerosing cholangitis as well. And rarely, people with primary sclerosing cholangitis develop inflammatory bowel disease only after having a liver transplant.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for primary sclerosing cholangitis?

There are many risk factors for primary sclerosing cholangitis, such as:

  • Your age. Primary sclerosing cholangitis can occur at any age, but it’s most often diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 50.
  • Your sex. Primary sclerosing cholangitis occurs more often in men.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease. A large proportion of people with primary sclerosing cholangitis also have inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Your geographical location. People with Northern European heritage have a higher risk of primary sclerosing cholangitis.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is primary sclerosing cholangitis diagnosed?

Because many PSC patients have no symptoms, the disease is often discovered through abnormal results on routine liver blood tests. Formal diagnosis is usually made by cholangiography, an X-ray test involving injection of dye into the bile ducts, or by a MRI.

How is primary sclerosing cholangitis treated?

Although researchers have studied many treatments, none has been shown to cure or slow the progress of PSC. Treatment of PSC aims to relieve symptoms and manage complications. Medical treatment may include various medications to relieve itching, antibiotics to treat infections, and vitamin supplements. Instruments passed through an endoscope during ERCP can help open blocked bile ducts.

Liver transplantation may be an option if the liver begins to fail.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage primary sclerosing cholangitis?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with primary sclerosing cholangitis:

  • Don’t drink alcohol.
  • Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B.
  • Use care with chemicals at home and at work.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Follow directions on all medications, both prescription and over-the-counter. Make sure your pharmacist and any doctor prescribing for you know that you have a liver disease.
  • Talk to your doctor about any herbs or supplements you’re taking since some can be harmful to your liver.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: September 20, 2017 | Last Modified: September 20, 2017

Want to live your best life?
Get the Hello Doktor Daily newsletter for health tips, wellness updates and more.