Primary biliary cirrhosis is a liver disease that slowly destroys the bile ducts in the liver. Bile, a substance that helps digest fat, leaves the liver through these ducts. When the ducts are damaged, bile builds up in the liver and damages liver tissue. Over time, the disease can cause cirrhosis and may make the liver stop working.
The cause of primary biliary cirrhosis is unknown. The disease affects women more often than men, and usually occurs between the ages of 30 and 60 years. Some research suggests that the disease might be caused by a problem within the immune system.
The most common symptoms of primary biliary cirrhosis are itchy skin and fatigue. Other symptoms include jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin), cholesterol deposits on the skin, fluid retention, and dry eyes or mouth. Some people with primary biliary cirrhosis also have osteoporosis, arthritis, and thyroid problems.
Primary biliary cirrhosis is diagnosed through laboratory tests, x-rays, and in some cases, a liver biopsy (a simple operation to remove a small piece of liver tissue). Treatment may include taking vitamin and calcium supplements, hormone therapy, and medicines to relieve symptoms. A liver transplant may be necessary if the liver is severely damaged.
More information is available from
American Liver Foundation
75 Maiden Lane, Suite 603
New York, NY 10038
Phone: 1-800-GO-LIVER (465-4837)
Additional Information on Primary Biliary Cirrhosis
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The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). NIDDK is part of the National Institutes of Health under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Established in 1980, the clearinghouse provides information about digestive diseases to people with digestive disorders and to their families, health care professionals, and the public. NDDIC answers inquiries; develops and distributes publications; and works closely with professional and patient organizations and Government agencies to coordinate resources about digestive diseases.
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NIH Publication No. 99-4625
Updated: February 2001