Raising Awareness of PBC Throughout the Month of September


The liver is highly important to the body and performs a number of essential tasks in the intestinal system, including getting rid of toxic substances from the circulatory system, storing vitamins and minerals, and helping to metabolize glucose. Within the liver, a group of thin structures termed bile ducts take the bile to the small intestine to help with digesting food. In the event these tubes become blocked or damaged, liver function may be impaired. A health problem that can cause damage to the bile ducts is an autoimmune disease referred to as primary biliary cholangitis (PBC).

In large part, most people who develop primary biliary cholangitis are females between 40 – 60 years of age, though men and women younger than the age of 40 may also have the disease. Left untreated, the disease might result in the loss of liver function and create the need for a liver transplant. The early detection of the condition is central to the most favorable result.

Since September is known as Primary Biliary Cholangitis Awareness Month, we seek to educate the community about the dangers of this condition. A digestive health specialist can identify PBC and suggest treatment options that can help stall the advancement of the disease. If you or a loved one could have primary biliary cholangitis, partner with Metropolitan Gastroenterology Associates for specialized assistance. Our New Orleans, LA gastrointestinal doctors can deliver personalized care and help you manage this concerning liver disorder.

Understanding primary biliary cholangitis

PBC is a rare autoimmune disorder that occurs when an individual's hyperactive immune response damages otherwise healthy bile ducts. When this occurs, it creates enlargement of tissues that progressively destroys the bile ducts. If bile is unable to travel into the small bowel, it accumulates in the liver and results in damage to the liver. PBC was formerly known as primary biliary cirrhosis; however, the name was amended to avoid confusion with liver diseases resulting from alcohol and drug use. Although the precise causes of primary biliary cholangitis remain undetermined, healthcare experts believe a patient's immune system response may be triggered by hereditary or environmental factors.

Symptoms of primary biliary cholangitis

The early stages of primary biliary cholangitis may carry no obvious symptoms, making it crucial to get periodic lab work that tracks the health and function of the liver. People who do have symptoms of PBC might present with:

  • Itchy skin (pruritus)
  • Tiredness
  • Dry eyes
  • Dry mouth (xerostomia)

Once the disorder progresses, the inflammation in the liver might bring about cirrhosis, a situation where advanced scarring builds up in the organ and hinders its ability to function properly. The clinical signs and symptoms of significant liver damage can include:

  • Swollen ankles and feet or edema

  • Lesions on the skin containing cholesterol and fat (called xanthomas)

  • Discomfort in the abdominal region

  • Unintentional weight loss

  • Yellowing skin (jaundice)

Should you or a member of your family notice any of the above symptoms, we urge you to get specialized treatment as early as possible. You can connect with a gastrointestinal specialist near you by reaching out to Metropolitan Gastroenterology Associates. Our team members provide treatment for patients in the New Orleans, LA community diagnosed with primary biliary cholangitis and additional liver disorders.

In what way is primary biliary cholangitis detected?

A GI doctor can screen people for primary biliary cholangitis by testing for specific substances in the blood or markers that provide information about liver function. Elevated quantities of the ALP (alkaline phosphatase), an enzyme, and the presence of AMAs (antimitochondrial antibodies) in the blood could indicate primary biliary cholangitis. Advanced imaging could also be carried out to visualize the bile ducts and liver to evaluate for signs of damaged tissue. These tests could help rule out other types of liver trouble. In patients where the exact condition remains undetermined, a liver biopsy could be conducted. During a biopsy procedure, a tiny amount of the patient’s liver tissue is excised and delivered to a medical lab to be investigated by a pathology specialist.

What are the treatment options for PBC?

Although there is no cure for primary biliary cholangitis, there are specific medications that can help slow the progression of the disease. Ursodiol, a naturally occurring bile acid, is frequently used to assist bile in moving from the liver into the small bowel. When given early on in the course of the disease, the medication can enhance liver function and possibly postpone the need to undergo liver transplantation. PBC symptoms, such as high cholesterol levels, pruritis, and dry eyes, can additionally be treated and managed by taking medication.

Get treatment for PBC in New Orleans, LA

Should you or someone you love receive a PBC diagnosis, please be aware that specialized care is available from Metropolitan Gastroenterology Associates. Our skilled team of digestive health specialists utilizes innovative procedures and progressive research to treat digestive problems, such as primary biliary cholangitis. To learn more about PBC and the ideal options for care, get in touch with our office in New Orleans, LA today.