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Sclerosing cholangitis

Alternative names

Primary sclerosing cholangitis


Sclerosing cholangitis is an inflammation of the bile ducts of the liver without a specified cause.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The bile ducts within and/or outside the liver become narrowed and scarred. The cause is unknown. The disease is associated with inflammatory bowel disease , and genetic factors may play a causative role. The disease is progressive and most patients develop biliary cirrhosis , persistent jaundice , and liver failure. The diagnosis is made, in part, by eliminating other diseases of the biliary system (for example, by absence of stones in the gallbladder or biliary system). The disease occurs more often in men. This disorder is rare in children.


  • jaundice
  • itching
  • general discomfort, uneasiness, or ill feeling ( malaise )
  • loss of appetite
  • indigestion
  • enlarged liver
  • enlarged spleen

Signs and tests

  • Tests that show cholangitis:
    • ERCP - endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography
    • percutaneous transhepatic cholangiogram (PTC)
    • liver biopsy
    • abdominal CT scan
    • abdominal MRI/Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)
    • abdominal ultrasound
  • Blood tests that reveal abnormal function:
    • elevated liver enzymes ( liver function tests )


Endoscopic balloon dilation of strictures may relieve symptoms. Endoscopic stent (drain or tube) placement for major strictures may be a possibility. Liver transplantation prior to liver failure is a possibility in some cases. The medications cholestyramine and ursodiol may be used in some circumstances, although medications have not been effective in improving the prognosis. Antibiotics are used for infections within the bilde ducts.

Expectations (prognosis)

Prognosis is variable. Some patients develop recurrent infections of the bile ducts. Some patients have prgressive chronic liver disease with ascites and varices. Patients do have an increased risk of developing cholangiocarcinoma.


  • liver failure
  • cholangitis (infection of the biliary system)
  • cholangiocarcinoma (cancer of the bile ducts)
  • vitamin deficiencies

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if persistent jaundice and itching are present.

Update Date: 5/9/2002

Andrew J. Muir, M.D. M.H.S., Division of Gastroenterology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT