As a vital organ, the liver maintains many important actions in the digestive tract, such as storing vitamins and minerals, cleaning pollutants from the circulatory system, and helping to control glucose levels in the body. Inside the liver, a collection of narrow structures called bile ducts carry the digestive fluid bile to the small intestine to help with processing food. If the bile ducts are occluded or damaged, it negatively affects liver function. A type of medical problem that can cause injury to the bile ducts is an autoimmune disease referred to as primary biliary cholangitis (PBC).
With September being Primary Biliary Cholangitis Awareness Month, we seek to educate the community about this liver condition. The vast majority of individuals having PBC are women age 40 – 60, though men and women younger than the age of 40 may also have the disease. Without care, the condition could end up causing liver failure and necessitate a liver transplant. Early diagnosis is key to having the best possible prognosis.
A gastrointestinal (GI) doctor can diagnose primary biliary cholangitis and determine treatment protocols that can help stall disease advancement. To review your risk for developing primary biliary cholangitis, visit Adult Gastroenterology Associates and meet with one of our skilled experts. Our Tulsa, Oklahoma gastroenterologists can provide specialty treatment and help you manage the liver condition.
What should I know about PBC?
Primary biliary cholangitis is a rare autoimmune disease that develops when an individual’s overactive immune response assaults otherwise healthy bile ducts. When this happens, it leads to the enlargement of tissues that gradually harms the bile ducts. In the event that bile is unable to move into the small bowel, it builds up in the liver and results in liver damage. Primary biliary cholangitis was previously known as primary biliary cirrhosis; however, the name was modified to avoid confusion with liver disease related to drug or alcohol use. Though the precise causes of PBC remain undetermined, medical experts surmise the body’s immune response could be stimulated by hereditary or environmental issues.
Symptoms of primary biliary cholangitis
During the initial course of the disease, PBC may generate no apparent symptoms, which is why it is pertinent to receive periodic lab testing to measure liver function. People who do have symptoms of primary biliary cholangitis commonly exhibit:
- Xerostomia (dry mouth)
- Pruritis (itchy skin)
- Dry eyes
When the disease becomes more advanced, the injury to the organ might lead to cirrhosis, a condition where fibrotic scar tissue develops in the liver and affects its ability to function as normal. The indications of advanced damage to the liver include:
- Jaundice or yellowing skin
- Pain in the abdominal area
- Edema or swollen ankles and feet
- Unintentional weight loss
- Xanthomas or skin lesions containing cholesterol or fat
Should you or a family member have any of these signs or symptoms, please seek medical treatment promptly. You can connect with a GI specialist near you by contacting Adult Gastroenterology Associates. We treat people throughout the Tulsa region who have primary biliary cholangitis and other liver diseases.
In what way is primary biliary cholangitis diagnosed?
A digestive health specialist can assess an individual for primary biliary cholangitis by measuring specific substances in the blood that provide information about how well the liver is functioning. Increased levels of the enzyme alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and antimitochondrial antibodies (AMAs) in the bloodstream can be evidence of primary biliary cholangitis. Advanced imaging tests may also be ordered to get a closer look at the liver and the bile ducts to screen for evidence of damaged tissue. Such screenings can help exclude other types of liver impairment. In instances where the exact condition is still undetermined, a biopsy of liver tissue might be carried out. Throughout the course of a biopsy, a small sample of the liver tissue is excised and delivered to a laboratory to be examined microscopically by a specialist.
Are there treatments for primary biliary cholangitis?
Though there is no known cure for PBC, certain medications could help slow the advancement of the liver disorder. Ursodiol, a naturally occurring bile acid, is frequently utilized to assist bile flow from the liver to the small intestine. When taken early on in the condition, the medication can elevate the function of the liver and possibly delay the need for a liver transplant. Side effects of PBC, like dry eyes, elevated cholesterol, and itchy skin, may additionally be controlled and addressed with medication therapy.
Seek care for primary biliary cholangitis in Tulsa, Oklahoma
If you or a loved one could have primary biliary cholangitis, it is important to receive specialized care. Featuring a knowledgeable team of GI specialists, Adult Gastroenterology Associates carries out cutting-edge procedures and industry-leading care for liver diseases, such as PBC. To learn more about the condition of primary biliary cholangitis and to explore treatment methods, contact our office in Tulsa today.