Sclerosing cholangitis refers to swelling (inflammation), scarring, and destruction of the bile ducts inside and outside of the liver.
The cause of this condition is usually unknown.
The disease may be seen in patients who have:
- Autoimmune disorders
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis)
Genetic factors may also be responsible. Sclerosing cholangitis occurs more often in men than women. This disorder is rare in children.
Sclerosing cholangitis may also be caused by:
- Infections in the liver, gallbladder, and bile ducts
Exams and Tests
Some people do not have symptoms, but blood work shows that they have abnormal liver function. The doctor will look for:
- Diseases that cause similar problems
- Diseases that often occur with this condition (especially inflammatory bowel disease)
Tests that show cholangitis include:
- Abdominal CT scan
- Abdominal ultrasound
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
- Liver biopsy
- Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)
- Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiogram (PTC)
Blood tests include:
- Liver enzymes (liver function tests)
Medications that may be used include:
- Ursodeoxycholic acid (ursodiol)
- Fat-soluble vitamins (D, E, A, K)
- Antibiotics for infections in the bile ducts
- Medications that quiet the immune system (prednisone, azathioprine, cyclosporine, methotrexate)
How well patients do varies. The disease tends to get worse over time and sometimes patients develop:
Some patients develop infections of the bile ducts that keep returning.
People with this condition have an increased risk of developing cancer of the bile ducts (cholangiocarcinoma). They should be checked regularly with a liver imaging test and blood tests. Patients who also have inflammatory bowel disease may have an increased risk of cancer of the colon or rectum and should have periodic colonoscopy.
Primary sclerosing cholangitis; PSC
Gordon FD. Primary sclerosing cholangitis.Surg Clin North Am
Ross AS, Kowdley KV. Sclerosing cholangitis and recurrent pyogenic cholangitis. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds.Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease
Update Date 7/18/2013
Updated by: George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.