- Take the Liver Disease Quiz
- Hepatitis Slideshow Pictures
- Take the Alcohol Quiz
- Patient Comments: Primary Biliary Cirrhosis - Experience
- Patient Comments: Primary Biliary Cirrhosis - Symptoms
- Find a local Gastroenterologist in your town
- Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) definition
- What are the causes of primary biliary cirrhosis?
- What are the risk factors for primary biliary cirrhosis?
- What are the signs and symptoms for primary biliary cirrhosis?
- How is the diagnosis of primary biliary cirrhosis made?
- What is the treatment for primary biliary cirrhosis?
- What are the complications of primary biliary cirrhosis?
- Can primary biliary cirrhosis be prevented?
- What is the prognosis for someone with primary biliary cirrhosis?
How is the diagnosis of primary biliary cirrhosis made?
The diagnosis of primary biliary cirrhosis is considered when the doctor suspects that there might be liver inflammation based upon the history and physical examination. Initially there may be few symptoms like itching or fatigue to help guide further testing
The diagnosis may be made incidentally should abnormal liver functions be found on routine blood tests drawn for another reason. Liver function tests include AST (aspartate aminotransferase), ALT (alanine aminotransferase), GGT (gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase), alkaline phosphatase and bilirubin. Blood levels tend to become elevated in liver disease and they may rise in specific patterns depending upon the underlying cause of inflammation.
Once the diagnosis is suspected, a blood test to check for antimitochondrial antibody (AMA) is usually done. This is positive in 90% to 95% of patients with PBC.
A liver biopsy, where a thin needle is inserted through the skin to take a piece of liver tissue, may help confirm the diagnosis. This tissue is examined under a microscope by a pathologist to look for changes consistent with PBC. It is also useful in help stage the disease, deciding its severity at the time of diagnosis.