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Definition:

Cholestasis is any condition in which the flow of bile from the liver is blocked.



Alternative Names:

Intrahepatic cholestasis; Extrahepatic cholestasis



Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

There are many causes of cholestasis.

Extrahepatic cholestasis occurs outside the liver. It can be caused by:

  • Bile duct tumors
  • Cysts
  • Narrowing of the bile duct (strictures)
  • Stones in the common bile duct
  • Pancreatitis
  • Pancreatic tumor or pseudocyst
  • Pressure on an organ due to a nearby mass or tumor
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis

Intrahepatic cholestasis occurs inside the liver. It can be caused by:

  • Alcoholic liver disease
  • Amyloidosis
  • Bacterial abscess in the liver
  • Being fed through a vein (IV)
  • Lymphoma
  • Pregnancy
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Serious infections that have spread through the bloodstream (sepsis)
  • Tuberculosis
  • Viral hepatitis
  • Sjogren syndrome

Certain medications can also cause cholestasis. See: Drug-induced cholestasis



Symptoms:
  • Clay-colored or white stools
  • Dark urine
  • Inability to digest certain foods
  • Itching
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain in the right upper part of the abdomen
  • Yellow skin or eyes


Signs and tests:

Blood tests may show higher than normal levels of bilirubin and alkaline phosphatase .

Imaging tests are used to diagnose this condition. Tests include:



Treatment:

The underlying cause of cholestasis must be treated.



Support Groups:



Expectations (prognosis):

How well a person does depends on the disease causing the condition. Stones in the common bile duct usually can be removed, curing the cholestasis.

Stents can be placed to open areas of the common bile duct that are narrowed or blocked by cancers.



Complications:
  • Diarrhea
  • Organ failure can occur if sepsis develops
  • Poor absorption of fat and fat-soluble vitamins
  • Severe itching
  • Weak bones (osteomalacia) and osteoporosis (due to very long-term cholestasis)


Calling your health care provider:

Call your health care provider if you have:

  • Persistent itching
  • Yellow skin or eyes
  • Other symptoms of cholestasis


Prevention:

Get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B if you are at risk. Avoid intravenous drug use and needle sharing.



References:

Zollner G, Trauner M. Mechanisms of cholestasis. Clinics in Liver Disease. 2008 Feb;12(1).

Afdhal NH. Diseases of the gallbladder and bile ducts. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 159.




Review Date: 9/28/2008
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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789 Central Avenue, Dover, NH 03820
Phone: (603) 742-5252
Toll free: 1 (877) 201-7100