Primary Biliary Cirrhosis

Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) is a chronic condition inside the liver. It is swelling in a part of the liver called bile ducts. Over time, this swelling can cause permanent damage to the bile ducts. The liver creates a fluid called bile. The fluid is sent out of the liver through bile ducts. The bile then moves to the gallbladder and the small intestine. Bile helps break down food in the intestines. PBC makes it difficult for bile to move out of the liver. The bile is not able to pass through the damaged bile ducts. As a result, the bile backs up into the liver. This leads to liver damage.

  • Causes

    The exact cause of PBC is unknown. However, because 95% of patients have specific autoantibodies, it may be due to an autoimmune disorder. This means the immune system is attacking health tissue.

  • Definition

    Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) is a chronic condition inside the liver. It is swelling in a part of the liver called bile ducts. Over time, this swelling can cause permanent damage to the bile ducts.

    The liver creates a fluid called bile. The fluid is sent out of the liver through bile ducts. The bile then moves to the gallbladder and the small intestine. Bile helps break down food in the intestines. PBC makes it difficult for bile to move out of the liver. The bile is not able to pass through the damaged bile ducts. As a result, the bile backs up into the liver. This leads to liver damage.

    Bile Ducts
    Nucleus Image
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Diagnosis


    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Blood tests will help to determine the extent of liver problems. They may also help look for causes like a hepatitis infection or autoimmune disorder. A liver
    biopsy
    will also help determine how much liver damage has occurred.

    Detailed pictures of the bile ducts may be needed. To get these pictures, your doctor may order:

    • MRI scan
    • CT scan
    • Ultrasound
    • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography
      (ERCP)

  • Prevention

    The exact cause of PBC is unknown, so there are no clear steps for prevention.

  • Risk Factors

    Factors that increase your chance of getting PBC include:

    • Gender: Women are nearly ten times as likely as men to develop PBC
    • Family history

    • Viral hepatitis—both
      hepatitis B
      and
      C

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms of PBC include:

    • Fatigue
    • Itchy skin
    • Abdominal pain, especially in right upper abdomen

    • Signs of liver damage:


      • Yellowing of the skin and/or eyes known as
        jaundice
      • Spider veins
      • Xanthelasma—yellow deposits around eyelids

  • Treatment

    There is no known cure for PBC. However, a variety of treatments may help to manage symptoms. Treatment can also help to slow the progression of liver damage and reduce the possibility of complications.

    Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options may include: