September is All About Primary Biliary Cholangitis


A critical organ, the liver performs several pertinent actions in the intestinal system, such as filtering toxic substances from the bloodstream, regulating glucose levels, and stockpiling vitamins and minerals. Within the organ, a collection of thin tubes termed bile ducts carry the digestive fluid bile to the small intestine to aid in the digestion of food. When the bile ducts are blocked or damaged, it negatively affects the liver’s ability to function. One type of condition that can damage the bile ducts is a progressive disorder called primary biliary cholangitis (PBC).

While the majority of individuals who develop PBC are women between the ages of 40 and 60, males as well as women under 40 can also develop the condition. Untreated, primary biliary cholangitis might lead to the loss of liver function and the need for a liver transplant. Identifying the condition early is central to creating the best possible health forecast.

With September being Primary Biliary Cholangitis Month, we seek to educate and raise awareness about this condition. A gastrointestinal (GI) doctor can identify PBC and offer treatment options that will help slow the progression of the disease. For more information on primary biliary cholangitis, reach out to Arizona Digestive Health. Our Phoenix, AZ gastrointestinal specialists can offer skilled treatment and help you control the disease.

What are the causes of primary biliary cholangitis?

PBC is an uncommon autoimmune issue that develops when a patient’s overactive immune response attacks normally healthy bile ducts. This leads to inflammation that incrementally traumatizes the bile ducts. If bile is unable to travel into the small bowel, it accumulates in the liver and results in organ damage. Primary biliary cholangitis was previously referred to as primary biliary cirrhosis; however, the name was altered to distinguish it from alcohol- or drug-related liver diseases. Although the root causes of PBC are not known, medical experts believe a person's immune response could be activated by environmental or hereditary components.

Symptoms of primary biliary cholangitis

During its beginning stages, PBC may generate no obvious symptoms, which is why it is essential to schedule periodic blood work to check the health of the liver. People who do exhibit symptoms of PBC might have:

  • Lethargy
  • Dry eyes
  • Itchy skin (pruritus)
  • Dry mouth (xerostomia)

When the disorder worsens, the damage to the organ might lead to cirrhosis, which is where fibrotic scar tissue builds up in the liver and impairs its ability to function properly. The signs and symptoms of severe damage to the liver often include:

  • Discomfort in the abdomen

  • Yellowing skin (jaundice)

  • Unintentional loss of weight

  • Swollen feet and ankles or edema

  • Skin lesions containing fat and cholesterol (xanthomas)

If you or a member of your family experience any of these indications, we encourage you to seek medical assistance as early as possible. You can partner with a digestive health specialist near you by contacting Arizona Digestive Health. Our physicians provide treatment for patients in the Phoenix, AZ area who are experiencing PBC or other liver issues.

How is primary biliary cholangitis identified?

A gastroenterologist can assess an individual for primary biliary cholangitis by testing for certain markers in the blood that show how well the liver is functioning. Greater quantities of the enzyme ALP (alkaline phosphatase) and the presence of AMAs (antimitochondrial antibodies) in the bloodstream can mean the presence of PBC. Advanced imaging procedures might also be carried out to examine the liver and the bile ducts to examine for signs of deterioration. These imaging tests might help exclude other forms of liver impairment. In instances where the exact condition is still undetermined, a liver tissue biopsy may be carried out. With a biopsy, a small sample of the person's liver tissue is excised and delivered to a medical lab to be review microscopically by a pathologist.

Are there treatment options for primary biliary cholangitis?

Although there is no treatment to cure PBC, there are medications that may help delay the advancement of the liver illness. Ursodiol, a naturally occurring bile acid, is frequently administered to facilitate the movement of bile traveling out of the liver and into the small intestine. If it is taken in the early stages of the disease, it could elevate the function of the liver and possibly delay the need for a liver transplant. Symptoms of primary biliary cholangitis, like dry eyes, itchy skin, and elevated cholesterol levels, might also be treated and managed with medication.

Get treatment for primary biliary cholangitis in Phoenix, AZ

Should you or a member of your family have signs of PBC, know that professional help is available from Arizona Digestive Health. With a knowledgeable team of gastroenterology specialists, Arizona Digestive Health offers state-of-the-art services and personalized care for liver problems, including primary biliary cholangitis. To discover more about PBC and how to manage the condition, contact our GI practice in Phoenix, AZ today.