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Biliary Obstruction Treatment & Management

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

Medical Care

Treatment of the underlying cause is the objective of the medical treatment of biliary obstruction. Do not subject patients to surgery until the diagnosis is clear. Thus, make every effort to visualize the biliary tree in patients who are jaundiced, with appropriate use of noninvasive and invasive techniques. Importantly, however, a delay in moving on to more invasive therapeutic modalities in a patient who does not initially respond to medical and supportive care increases the risks of an adverse outcome (see Workup).

  • In cases of cholelithiasis in which either the patient refuses surgery or surgical intervention is not appropriate, an attempt to dissolve noncalcified calculi may occasionally be made by the administration of oral bile salts for as long as 2 years.
    • Because gallbladder emptying is an important determinant of stone clearance, normal gallbladder function must first be established via oral cholecystography.
    • Ursodeoxycholic acid (10 mg/kg/d) works to reduce biliary secretion of cholesterol. In turn, this decreases the cholesterol saturation of bile. In 30-40% of patients, this results in the gradual dissolution of cholesterol-containing stones. However, stones may recur within 5 years once the drug is stopped (50% of patients).
    • Extracorporeal shock-wave lithotripsy may be used as an adjunct to oral dissolution therapy. By increasing the surface-to-volume ratio of the stones, it both enhances dissolution of stones and makes clearing the smaller fragments easier. Contraindications include complications of gallstone disease (eg, cholecystitis, choledocholelithiasis, biliary pancreatitis), pregnancy, and coagulopathy or anticoagulant medications (ie, because of the risk of hematoma formation). Lithotripsy is associated with a 70% recurrence rate for gallstones, is not approved by the US Food and Drug Association, and is restricted to investigational programs only.
  • Bile acid–binding resins, cholestyramine (4 g) or colestipol (5 g), dissolved in water or juice 3 times a day may be useful in the symptomatic treatment of pruritus associated with biliary obstruction. However, deficiencies of vitamins A, D, E, and K may occur if steatorrhea is present and can be aggravated by the use of cholestyramine or colestipol. Therefore, include an individualized regimen for replacement of these vitamins as needed in the patient's treatment.
  • Antihistamines may be used for the symptomatic treatment of pruritus, particularly as a sedative at night. Their effectiveness is modest. Endogenous opioids have been suggested as possibly playing a role in the development of pruritus of cholestasis. Treatment with parentally administered naloxone and, more recently, nalmefene, has improved pruritus in some patients.
  • Rifampin has been suggested as a medical adjunct to the treatment of cholestasis. By decreasing the intestinal flora, it slows the conversion of primary to secondary bile salts and may reduce serum bilirubin levels, ALP levels, and pruritus in certain patients.
  • Discontinuation of medications that may be causing or exacerbating cholestasis and/or biliary obstruction often leads to full recovery. Similarly, appropriate treatment of infections (eg, viral, bacterial, parasitic) is indicated.
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Surgical Care

As with medical care, the need for surgical intervention depends on the cause of biliary obstruction.

  • Cholecystectomy is the recommended treatment in cases of symptomatic cholelithiasis because these patients have an increased risk of developing complications.
    • Open cholecystectomy is relatively safe, with a mortality rate of 0.1-0.5 %.
    • Laparoscopic cholecystectomy remains the treatment of choice for symptomatic gallstones, partially because of the shorter recovery period (return to work in an average of 7 d), decreased postoperative discomfort, and improved cosmetic result.
    • Approximately 5% of laparoscopic cases are converted to an open procedure secondary to difficulty in visualizing the anatomy or a complication.
  • Resectability of neoplastic causes of biliary obstruction varies with respect to the location and extent of the disease. Photodynamic therapy (PDT) has been shown to have good results in the palliative treatment of advanced biliary tract malignancies, particularly when used in conjunction with a biliary stenting procedure.[12, 13] PDT produces localized tissue necrosis by applying a photosensitizing agent, which preferentially accumulates in the tumor tissue, and then exposing the area to laser light, which activates the medication and results in destruction of tumor cells.
  • Liver transplantation may be considered in appropriate patients.
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Consultations

See the list below:

  • Gastroenterologist
  • Radiologist
  • General surgeon
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Diet

Obesity, excess energy intake, and rapid weight loss can lead to stone formation, with potential biliary obstruction as a consequence. Gradual and modest weight reduction may be of value in patients who are at risk.

  • Reduce intake of saturated fats.
  • High intake of fiber has been linked to a lower risk for gallstones.
  • Reduce intake of sugar because a high intake of sugar may be associated with an increased risk of gallstones.
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Activity

Regular exercise may reduce the risk of gallstones and gallstone complications.

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Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

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.

Coauthor(s)

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.

Acknowledgements

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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