Primary Biliary Cholangitis (PBC) is a chronic liver disease that causes damage to the bile ducts in the liver. Read on to learn more about this condition.
Causes and Risk Factors
PBC is considered to be an autoimmune disease. This means your body perceives your liver as invasive and attacks it. Your body’s T cells, which fight off bacteria and viruses, end up damaging cells in the bile ducts in your liver.
This condition may be caused by environmental factors as well as genetic factors. It is more likely to occur in women, people between 30 and 60, people who smoke, people with a family member who has PBC, and people who have been exposed to certain chemicals. Sex is one of the primary risk factors: around 90% of people with PBC are women.
PBC causes a few symptoms. These include intense itching, elevated cholesterol levels, swollen feet and ankles, musculoskeletal pain, darkening of the skin, and abdominal pain. In general, these symptoms develop gradually, and most people with PBC do not have symptoms when doctors diagnose them with the condition. Symptoms tend to develop over 5 to 20 years, becoming more significant over time.
Diagnosing Primary Biliary Cholangitis
In most cases, doctors diagnose PBC incidentally during a routine checkup or other medical visit. This is because symptoms tend to develop very slowly, and are often not present in the early stages of the disease. In many cases, your doctor may discover an abnormal result in a routine blood test, which leads them to further testing. If they do suspect you may have PBC, they will likely give you a blood test to measure anti-mitochondrial antibodies (AMAs). Doctors consider this the go-to test for PBC, since people almost never have AMAs present in their blood unless they have PBC. If your doctor does discover AMAs through the testing, that is a sign you likely have the condition.
Your doctor will also ask you about your medical history, along with your family’s medical history. This is to help determine if the disease may be present in your family already, which is a risk factor for you having it.
Treating Primary Biliary Cholangitis
There is no cure for PBC, but there are several treatments doctors can pursue to help manage your symptoms and disease progression. Over the long term, PBC can lead to liver failure since it damages your liver slowly over many years. If your liver fails, you will need a liver transplant, which is a major surgery.
To help mitigate damage, your doctor may prescribe a medication called ursodiol. This is a natural bile acid that can help bile flow through your liver more effectively. It can improve your liver function and reduce scarring. It is an effective treatment for a little over half of people with PBC.
There are many treatment options to address the symptoms of PBC as well. Your doctor may recommend antihistamines like Benadryl to help with intense itching, and eye drops to help with dry eyes. They may also prescribe calcium and Vitamin D to help maintain your bone strength, and if you have fatty stools there are other vitamin supplements they may recommend.
There are a number of lifestyle changes you can make to help manage PBC as well. These include avoiding alcohol or lowering your intake, staying hydrated, exercising regularly, and avoiding smoking. You can combine these kinds of lifestyle changes with your medications to manage PBC and improve your health outlook long-term.
Our experienced team at GHP has years of experience treating patients with conditions including PBC. We can help establish the best plan of care for your situation. Contact any of our office locations to learn about the options we offer and schedule an appointment today.