Cholangitis

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Cholangitis

Definition

Cholangitis is an infection of the common bile duct, the tube that carries bile from the liver to the gallbladder and intestines. Bile is a chemical that helps digest food.

Causes

Cholangitis is usually caused by a bacterial infection, which can occur when the duct is blocked by things such as a gallstone or tumor. The infection causing this condition may also spread to the liver.

Risk factors include a previous history of gallstones, biliary diseases such as sclerosing cholangitis, HIV, and, rarely, travel to countries where a worm or fluke infection can be contracted.

Symptoms

  • Recurrent jaundice
  • Abdominal pain
    • In the right upper quadrant or middle of the upper abdomen
    • May be recurrent
    • Sharp or cramping or dull
    • May radiate to the back or below the right shoulder blade
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Clay-colored stools (may occur)
  • Dark urine (may occur)
  • Nausea and vomiting

Exams and Tests

Tests may include:

  • ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography)
  • Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiogram (PTCA)
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • MRCP (magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography)

Blood tests may include:

  • Liver function tests
  • Bilirubin
  • WBC

Treatment

Antibiotics can cure infection. Blockage bile ducts may be drained by ERCP or by PTCA.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outcome is usually good with treatment, but poor without it.

Possible Complications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have symptoms of cholangitis.

Prevention

Treatment of gallstones, tumors, and infestations of parasites may reduce the risk for some people. A metal or plastic stents within the bile system may be needed to prevent recurrence.

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