What is Primary Biliary Cholangitis?
Primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) is a chronic disease that results from progressive destruction of the bile ducts in the liver. Bile is a fluid that is created in the liver that helps aids with digestion and helps the body to absorb certain vitamins. It can also help your body to rid itself of toxins. When the liver is chronically inflamed, it can lead to bile duct damage, scarring of the liver tissue (cirrhosis) and even liver failure.
This condition is considered an autoimmune disease, meaning the body’s immune system is wrongly attacking healthy cells and tissue. It is believed that a combination of environmental and genetic factors causes this disease. While PBC can affect both sexes, it is more common in women and people between the ages of 35 and 60 years old. It also tends to occur among those who have family members with this disease.
In many cases, people with PBC do not have symptoms in the early stages. Some may discover this condition through testing for a different issue. However, as this condition progresses, individuals can experience the following:
- Abdominal pain.
- Itchy skin (pruritus).
- Small white or yellow bumps around the eyes.
- Dry mouth or eyes.
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice).
- Swelling in the legs, feet, ankles or abdomen.
- Weight loss.
How is Primary Biliary Cholangitis Diagnosed?
In order to diagnose primary biliary cholangitis, your doctor will perform a physical exam, as well as speak with you regarding your health history and your family’s health history. He or she may wish to run some tests as well, including blood tests to check the levels of liver enzymes, antibody tests to look for signs of an autoimmune disease, a cholesterol test or imaging tests such as ultrasound, MRCP, MRE and more.
Treatment Options for Primary Biliary Cholangitis
While there is no cure for PBC, there are treatment options available to slow the progression of this disease and prevent complications. These include the following:
There are some lifestyle changes that can be made to help lessen liver damage. These include quitting smoking and drinking, taking all of your medications properly as directed by your doctor, getting regular exercise and eating a healthy, balanced diet. Your doctor may also recommend that you eat foods rich in vitamins A, D, E and K.
Also known as ursodiol, this medication is usually used as a first step in treatment. It works by helping bile to move through the liver.
Also called Ocaliva®, this medication has been approved by the FDA to treat primary biliary cholangitis. When taken alone or along with ursodiol for one year, it can help to improve liver function and slow liver fibrosis.
When taken with ursodeoxycholic acid, these medications can reduce liver inflammation and itching in some patients.
This procedure may be necessary if liver function continues to decline, despite medical treatment.
Medications to Manage Symptoms
Your doctor may also prescribe you different treatments to help improve the symptoms experienced along with PBC. These may include antihistamines for itching, medications for dry eyes or mouth and vitamins and supplements if your body is having trouble absorbing nutrients.
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