Primary Biliary Cirrhosis (PBC)

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: Bhupinder S. Anand, MBBS, MD, DPHIL (OXON)
    Bhupinder S. Anand, MBBS, MD, DPHIL (OXON)

    Bhupinder S. Anand, MBBS, MD, DPHIL (OXON)

    Dr. Anand received MBBS degree from Medical College Amritsar, University of Punjab. He completed his Internal Medicine residency at the Postgraduate Institute of medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India. He was trained in the field of Gastroenterology and obtained the DPhil degree. Dr. Anand is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology.

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What are the complications of primary biliary cirrhosis?

The complications of primary biliary cirrhosis develop as the ability of the liver to function decreases. Cirrhosis describes liver scarring and failure. The liver is responsible for helping to digest food, producing proteins, blood clotting factors, and enzymes that help digest food. Some complications include the following:

Ascites: Fluid collection within the abdomen that occurs because the liver cannot produce enough albumin, a protein that helps keep fluid within the blood vessels. Ascites fluid is prone to infection and a condition called spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (peritoneum=sac that contains the abdominal organs + itis=inflammation)

Edema: Swelling of the legs may occur, again because of decreased albumin levels in the body

Easy bruising or bleeding: The liver is responsible for producing blood clotting factors. Without an adequate supply, there is an increased risk of bleeding.

Hepatic encephalopathy: The liver also helps remove waste products from the bloodstream. Ammonia is the chemical waste product of protein metabolism and the body requires a healthy liver to metabolize it. If ammonia levels rise, confusion and lethargy (encephalopathy) may occur.

Portal hypertension: An increase in pressure within the liver can cause blood flow issues leading to portal hypertension. This may backup blood flow from other organs, causing splenomegaly, an enlarged spleen, and varices, swollen veins, especially in the esophagus and stomach that can predispose to bleeding.

Osteoporosis: PBC is also complicated by osteoporosis, difficulty in absorbing nutrients from the intestine, and increased risk of infection because of a compromised immune system.

Cancer: Hepatocellular carcinoma is a complication of PBC, occurring in up to 6% of patients.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/23/2015

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