Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis

What is Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis?

Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis or PSC is a bile duct disease. Bile ducts connect the liver with the small intestine and the gallbladder. These tube-like structures transport bile, a liquid made in the liver to help the body digest certain vitamins and fats. The body can only handle so much bile before it begins to get sick. This is why healthy bile ducts are so important.

It is unknown what causes PSC but three-quarters of PSC patients also suffer from an inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis. Why these two conditions seem to pop up together is unknown. People of all ages, including children, can get PSC but adults over 40 are the most common patients. Men get PSC more than women for an unknown reason.

What are the Symptoms of Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis?

Symptoms come on so gradually that patients may have PSC and never know it for years. Symptoms then become so annoying that medical help is finally sought out. The most common symptoms are itchy skin, yellowing of the skin, yellowing of the whites of the eyes and feeling tired all of the time.

In later stages of the disease, patients also have to deal with abdominal pain, fever and chills no matter what the temperature is.

Ignore the symptoms can have fatal consequences. If left untreated, the liver will fail or develop cancer.

How is Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis Treated?

There is no treatment to fix the damage that has already occurred to the bile ducts. The goal of treatment is to prevent any further damage and help alleviate current symptoms. For example, a variety of creams and ointments are prescribed to soothe itchy skin.

Vitamin supplements taken every day may help give the body needed nutrients that it can no longer naturally digest. Antibiotics may also be prescribed to help with infections in the bile ducts.

Worse cases may need endoscopic surgery to help get bile flowing through the bile ducts again. The very worst cases have livers that are so damaged that only a transplant can save them.

Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
August 29, 2017
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