Primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) may not be a disease that you’ve heard about, yet this autoimmune disease is more common than you may realize. In fact, about 1 in every 1,000 women over the age of 40 are dealing with this type of progressive liver disease, and while some men do develop PBC this is most often reported in women. Here’s everything you want to know about liver disease, living with PBC, and how to treat it.
What is PBC?
While this progressive condition does affect the liver it is actually an autoimmune disorder. This means that the immune system is attacking the bile ducts. When the bile ducts are damaged or destroyed, this leads to inflammation and scarring (cirrhosis) of the liver.
What are the signs and symptoms of PBC?
As with most conditions, symptoms aren’t typically apparent during the earlier stages. As the condition progresses, a woman may start to notice symptoms. This is a slow disease, sometimes taking as long as 20 years for symptoms to appear.
Some of the early warning signs are fatigue and itchy skin. Over time, women may also develop,
- Skin darkening
- Dry mouth and eyes
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle and joint pain
- Weight loss
- High cholesterol
- Yellowing of the skin
- Swelling of the legs and feet
- Swelling of the abdomen
Since many women with PBC don’t experience symptoms, it’s important that you visit your doctor regularly for checkups and routine bloodwork. A routine liver blood test can detect elevated liver enzymes, which may lead your doctor to perform further testing.
How is PBC treated?
While PBC is not curable, your gastroenterologist can provide you treatment that can help slow the progression of the disease. One of the standard treatments is ursodeoxycholic acid, which helps the bile to flow from the liver to the intestines. Other medications are also prescribed to improve liver function.
If you are concerned about PBC or if you have questions about this autoimmune disorder your gastroenterologist can provide you with more detailed information, including treatment options and a prognosis.