Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine.
Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Center for Liver Disease & Transplantation

Primary Biliary Cirrhosis

Primary biliary cirrhosis is irritation and swelling (inflammation) of the ducts that transport bile through and out of the liver, which can lead to blockage. This obstruction damages liver cells and leads to cirrhosis of the liver.

The disease more commonly affects middle-aged women, and its cause is unknown.

Symptoms of Primary Biliary Cirrhosis

More than half of all primary biliary cirrhosis patients experience no symptoms at the time of diagnosis. Symptoms usually come on gradually and may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Itchy skin (pruritus)
  • Dry eyes and mouth
  • Abdominal pain and swelling
  • Yellowed skin (jaundice)
  • Dark urine

Diagnosing Primary Biliary Cirrhosis

The first indication of primary biliary cirrhosis usually occurs when routine blood tests to check liver function produce abnormal results. Your physician’s next step may involve one or more of the following tests:

  • Blood test for anti-mitochondrial antibody (AMA), which is detected in 90 percent of people with primary biliary cirrhosis
  • Alkaline phosphatase blood test
  • Liver biopsy
  • Cholesterol blood test
  • Abdominal ultrasound

Treatment of Primary Biliary Cirrhosis

Treatment of primary biliary cirrhosis involves medications (usually ursodeoxycholic acid) and vitamin therapy aimed at relieving symptoms and preventing complications. Many patients are also affected with osteoporosis and thyroid disease, so other testing may be necessary.

If the patient is at risk for liver failure, a liver transplant may be necessary.

To find out more about the Methodist Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation, call us at 713-441-8839 or 866-94-LIVER (866-945-4837) or send us an email.