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Biliary Obstruction Medication

  • Author: Jennifer Lynn Bonheur, MD; Chief Editor: Julian Katz, MD  more...
Updated: Mar 11, 2015

Medication Summary

Bile acid – binding resins and ursodeoxycholic acid are used to treat cholelithiasis when surgery is refused or is inappropriate. Normal gallbladder function must be established by oral cholecystography findings prior to the initiation of drug therapy.


Gallstone solubilizing agents

Class Summary

Ursodeoxycholic acid (ursodiol) is a naturally occurring bile acid present in small quantities in human bile. Suppresses liver synthesis and secretion of cholesterol. Inhibits intestinal cholesterol absorption.

Ursodiol (Actigall)


Used to treat biliary stasis and dissolve gallstones.


Narcotic antagonists

Class Summary

Endogenous opioids may effect pruritic development associated with cholestasis. Treatment with narcotic antagonists may attenuate pruritus.

Naloxone (Narcan)


Prevents or reverses opioid effects (eg, hypotension, respiratory depression, sedation, pruritus), possibly by displacing opiates from their receptors.



Class Summary

Rifampin, in particular, has been suggested as a treatment for cholestasis in certain patients. By reducing intestinal flora, it slows conversion of primary to more toxic secondary bile salts. Has also been shown to decrease serum levels of bilirubin and ALP, perhaps in part contributing to its effectiveness in minimizing associated pruritus.

Rifampin (Rifadin, Rifadin IV, Rimactane)


Inhibits DNA-dependent bacterial by binding to the beta subunit of DNA-dependent RNA polymerase, blocking RNA transcription.


Bile acid–binding resins

Class Summary

Inhibit enterohepatic reuptake of intestinal bile salts.

Cholestyramine (Questran)


Acts as a cholesterol-lowering agent. Forms a nonabsorbable complex with bile acids in the intestine, which inhibits enterohepatic reuptake of intestinal bile salts.

Colestipol (Colestid)


Binds bile acids in the intestine, facilitates partial removal of bile acids from enterohepatic circulation, and prevents their reabsorption.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Jennifer Lynn Bonheur, MD Attending Physician, Division of Gastroenterology, Lenox Hill Hospital

Jennifer Lynn Bonheur, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Gastroenterological Association, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, New York Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, New York Academy of Sciences, Sigma Xi

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Peter F Ells, MD Associate Professor, Division of Gastroenterology-Hepatology, Albany Medical Center

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

BS Anand, MD Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, Baylor College of Medicine

BS Anand, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, American College of Gastroenterology, American Gastroenterological Association, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Julian Katz, MD Clinical Professor of Medicine, Drexel University College of Medicine

Julian Katz, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Gastroenterology, American College of Physicians, American Gastroenterological Association, American Geriatrics Society, American Medical Association, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics, American Trauma Society, Association of American Medical Colleges, Physicians for Social Responsibility

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Anil Minocha, MD, FACP, FACG, AGAF, CPNSS Professor of Medicine, Director of Digestive Diseases, Medical Director of Nutrition Support, Medical Director of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, Internal Medicine Department, University of Mississippi Medical Center; Clinical Professor, University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy

Anil Minocha, MD, FACP, FACG, AGAF, CPNSS is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Clinical Toxicology, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, American Federation for Clinical Research, American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, American College of Forensic Examiners Institute, American College of Gastroenterology, American College of Physicians, American Gastroenterological Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


The authors and editors of Medscape Drugs & Diseases gratefully acknowledge the contributions of previous coauthor Flavio R Kamenetz, MD, PhD, to the development and writing of this article.

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