What is sclerosing cholangitis?

Sclerosing cholangitis is a disease of the bile ducts, which carry the digestive liquid bile from your liver to your small intestine. In sclerosing cholangitis, inflammation causes scars within the bile ducts. These scars make the ducts hard and narrow and gradually cause serious liver damage.

How common is sclerosing cholangitis?

Primary sclerosing cholangitis is an uncommon condition affecting the bile ducts and liver. Both men and women can have the same rate to catch this disease, but the risk of men may be higher than women.

However, it can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of sclerosing cholangitis?

Sclerosing cholangitis is usually diagnosed before symptoms appear when a routine blood test or an X-ray taken for an unrelated condition shows liver abnormalities.

Some common early symptoms often include:

  • Fatigue
  • Itching

Many people diagnosed with sclerosing cholangitis before they have symptoms continue to feel generally well for several years, but there is no reliable and certain way to predict how quickly or slowly the disease will progress for any individual. Signs and symptoms that may show as the disease progresses include:

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

When should I see my doctor?

Early diagnosis and treatment can stop sclerosing cholangitis from worsening and prevent another medical emergency, so talk to your doctor as soon as possible to prevent this serious condition.

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


What causes sclerosing cholangitis?

The cause of this condition is usually unknown. The disease may be seen in people who have:

  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Chronic pancreatitis (inflamed pancreas)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn disease and ulcerative colitis)
  • Sarcoidosis (a disease that causes inflammation in various parts of the body)
  • Genetic factors may also be responsible. Sclerosing cholangitis occurs more often in men than women. This disorder is rare in children.

Sclerosing cholangitis may also be caused by:

  • Choledocholithiasis (gallstones in the bile duct)
  • Infections in the liver, gallbladder, and bile ducts

Risk factors

What increases my risk for sclerosing cholangitis?

Factors that may increase the risk of primary sclerosing cholangitis include:

  • 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 in the United States and Northern Europe have a higher risk of primary sclerosing cholangitis than do people in Asia and Southern Europe.

Diagnosis & Treatment

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


How is sclerosing cholangitis diagnosed?

Although some people do have no symptoms, blood tests show that they have abnormal liver function. In case, your doctor suspects that you may experience this condition, he/she will look for:

  • Diseases that cause similar problems
  • Diseases that often occur with this condition (especially inflammatory bowel disease)
  • Gallstones

Tests that show cholangitis include:

  • Abdominal X-rays
  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
  • Liver biopsy
  • Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)
  • Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiogram (PTC)
  • Blood tests include liver enzymes (liver function tests).

How is sclerosing cholangitis treated? 

Treatments for sclerosing cholangitis try to focus on managing complications and controlling liver damage. Many medications have been found in people with sclerosing cholangitis, but so far none of them have been found to slow or reverse the liver damage associated with this disease.

  • Treatment for itching: Antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl, Diphenhist, others) and loratadine (Alavert, Claritin, others), are popularly used to reduce itching from insect bites or contact dermatitis. Whether these medications are effective in sclerosing cholangitis, though, is unknown. Antihistamines may worsen the liver disease symptoms of dry eyes and dry mouth. On the other hand, antihistamines can help with sleep if itching keeps you awake.

Medications that bind to bile acids — the substances thought to cause itching in liver disease — are the first line treatment for itching in sclerosing cholangitis.

  • Treatment for infections: Bile that backs up in narrowed or blocked ducts causes some bacterial infections. To avoid and treat these infections, people with sclerosing cholangitis may take repeated courses of antibiotics or continue taking antibiotics for long periods. Before any procedure that could cause an infection, such as an endoscopic procedure or abdominal surgery, you will also need to take antibiotics.
  • Liver transplant: A liver transplant is the only treatment known to cure clerosing cholangitis. During a liver transplant, surgeons try to remove your diseased liver and replace it with a healthy liver from a donor. Liver transplant is reserved for people with liver failure or other severe complications of sclerosing cholangitis. Though it is uncommon, it is possible for sclerosing cholangitis to recur after a liver transplant.

Lifestyle changes & Home remedies

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

It is considered that there are some home remedies to prevent this condition.

  • Don’t drink alcohol.
  • Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B.
  • Use care with chemicals at home and at work.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.

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.

Review Date: March 14, 2017 | Last Modified: March 14, 2017

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