Cholestasis is any condition in which the flow of bile from the liver is slowed or blocked.
Intrahepatic cholestasis; Extrahepatic cholestasis
There are many causes of cholestasis.
Extrahepatic cholestasis occurs outside the liver. It can be caused by:
Bile duct tumors
Narrowing of the bile duct (strictures)
Stones in the common bile duct
Pancreatic tumor or pseudocyst
Pressure on the bile ducts due to a nearby mass or tumor
Primary sclerosing cholangitis
Intrahepatic cholestasis occurs inside the liver. It can be caused by:
Alcoholic liver disease
Bacterial abscess in the liver
Being fed exclusively through a vein (IV)
- Primary biliary cirrhosis
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis
Serious infections that have spread through the bloodstream (sepsis)
- Viral hepatitis
Certain medicines can also cause cholestasis, including:
- Antibiotics such as ampicillin and other penicillins
- Anabolic steroids
- Birth control pills
- Clay-colored or white stools
- Dark urine
- Inability to digest certain foods
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pain in the right upper part of the abdomen
- Yellow skin or eyes
Exams and Tests
Blood tests may show that you have too much bilirubin and alkaline phosphatase.
Imaging tests are used to diagnose this condition. Tests include:
- CT scan of the abdomen
- MRI of the abdomen
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) (can also determine cause)
- Ultrasound of the abdomen
The underlying cause of cholestasis must be treated.
How well a person does depends on the disease causing the condition. Stones in the common bile duct can often be removed. This can cure the cholestasis.
Stents can be placed to open areas of the common bile duct that are narrowed or blocked by cancers.
- Organ failure can occur if sepsis develops
- Poor absorption of fat and fat-soluble vitamins
- Severe itching
- Weak bones (osteomalacia) due to having cholestasis for a very long time
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have:
- Itching that does not go away
- Yellow skin or eyes
- Other symptoms of cholestasis
Get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B if you are at risk. Do not use intravenous drugs and share needles.
Beuers U, Boberg KM, Chapman RW et al. EASL Clinical Practice Guidelines: Management of cholestatic liver diseases. J Hepatol. 2009 Aug;51(2):237-67.
Zollner G, Trauner M. Mechanisms of cholestasis. Clinics in Liver Disease. 2008;12:1-26.
Afdhal NH. Diseases of the gallbladder and bile ducts. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 158.
Reviewed By:Jenifer K. Lehrer, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Frankford-Torresdale Hospital, Aria Health System, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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