Primary Biliary Cirrhosis (PBC) - Topic Overview
What is primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC)?
biliary cirrhosis (PBC) is a kind of cirrhosis caused by damage to the bile ducts in the liver. Much like other forms of liver disease, PBC
permanently damages the liver as tissue is replaced with scar tissue
(fibrosis). As more scar tissue develops, the structure and function of the
liver are affected.
What causes PBC?
The exact cause of PBC is
unknown. But it may be related to a problem with the
immune system, which is the body's natural defense
What are the symptoms?
Many people who have
primary biliary cirrhosis do not have symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they
With more advanced liver damage, people may have complications related to cirrhosis such as:
- Fluid buildup in the abdomen
- Bleeding of enlarged veins in the esophagus, stomach,
and rectum (variceal bleeding).
- Premature thinning of the bones
How is PBC diagnosed?
Primary biliary cirrhosis is
suspected based on a medical history, physical exam, and lab tests that show
high levels of the enzyme alkaline phosphatase and antimitochondrial antibodies
(AMA) in the blood. Your doctor may also conduct an imaging test such as an
ultrasound, which shows images of the liver and other
tissues inside the body. He or she may also do a
biopsy to remove a small piece of
tissue from the liver. Biopsy is the best way to definitively diagnose
How is it treated?
Treatment for primary biliary
cirrhosis is difficult, because the immune system appears to be involved. As
with other forms of cirrhosis, treatment focuses on reducing symptoms,
preventing and treating the complications of the disease, and preventing other
conditions that may cause additional liver damage.
The medicine ursodiol is usually given soon after a diagnosis of primary biliary cirrhosis. Ursodiol helps move bile out of the liver and into the small intestine. If it is used early enough, ursodiol can improve liver function and may keep you from needing a liver transplant. The medicine may also help you live longer.1