Sclerosing cholangitis

Alternative names
Primary sclerosing cholangitis

Sclerosing cholangitis is an inflammation of the bile ducts of the liver without a specified cause.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The bile ducts within and outside the liver become narrowed and scarred. The cause is unknown. The disease is associated with inflammatory bowel disease, and genetic factors may play a causative role. The disease is progressive and most patients develop biliary Cirrhosis, persistent jaundice, and liver failure. The diagnosis is made, in part, by eliminating other diseases of the biliary system - for example, by absence of stones in the gallbladder or biliary system. The disease occurs more often in men. This disorder is rare in children.


Signs and tests

  • Tests that show cholangitis:       o ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography)       o PTC (percutaneous transhepatic cholangiogram)       o Liver biopsy       o Abdominal CT scan       o MRCP (Abdominal MRI/magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography)       o Abdominal ultrasound  
  • Blood tests that reveal abnormal function:       o Elevated liver enzymes (liver function tests)


Endoscopic balloon dilation of strictures may relieve symptoms. Endoscopic stent (drain or tube) placement for major strictures may be a possibility. Liver transplantation prior to liver failure is a possibility in some cases. The medications cholestyramine and ursodiol may be used in some circumstances, although medications have not been effective in improving the prognosis. Antibiotics are used for infections within the bilde ducts.

Expectations (prognosis)

Prognosis is variable. Some patients develop recurrent infections of the bile ducts. Some patients have progressive chronic liver disease with ascites and varices. Patients have an increased risk of developing cancer of the bile ducts (cholangiocarcinoma), and liver transplant may become necessary.


  • Liver failure  
  • Cholangitis (infection of the biliary system)  
  • Cholangiocarcinoma  
  • Vitamin deficiencies

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if persistent jaundice and itching are present.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 5, 2012
by David A. Scott, M.D.

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