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Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis Treatment & Management

  • Author: Vikas Khurana, MD, FACP, FACG; Chief Editor: Julian Katz, MD  more...
Updated: Jan 03, 2016

Approach Considerations

No approved or proven therapy exists for primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC).[1] Pharmacotherapy is aimed at treating symptoms and managing complications. Immunosuppressants, chelators, and steroids are used in an attempt to control the disease process but have not shown significant benefit.

Further care is dictated by the stage and degree of progression of the disease. It involves care by a gastroenterologist, who must monitor the patient's condition with frequent laboratory tests and maintain vigilance for the many complications of PSC.

Liver transplantation is the only therapy that can alter the eventual outcome, with reported posttransplant survival rates of 85% at 5 years and 70% at 10 years.[2] Suitability for liver transplantation should be determined expeditiously and, if appropriate, offered to the patient.

Endoscopic dilation of dominant strictures, with or without stenting, has been shown to alleviate cholestasis and to improve laboratory test results; however, it is not currently believed to affect disease progression. Ruling out malignancy in these strictures is difficult.

Ursodeoxycholic acid studies

Ursodeoxycholic acid has been shown to improve the liver function profile in some patients and, in conjunction with endoscopic dilation, has shown a survival benefit in some studies.

In a study by Lindor et al of adult patients with PSC who were given 28-30 mg/kg/day of ursodeoxycholic acid, versus placebo, the patients treated with ursodeoxycholic acid had a greater decrease in serum liver test results, but a higher risk of serious adverse events (ie, varices, cholangiocarcinoma, liver transplantation, and death). The risk of a primary endpoint was 2.3-fold greater for the ursodeoxycholic acid-treated group than those in the placebo group and 2.1-fold greater for death, transplantation, or minimal listing criteria.[22]

Shi et al performed a meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials comparing ursodeoxycholic acid with placebo or no treatment and found that ursodeoxycholic acid improved liver biochemistry study results and that there were trends in histologic and cholangiographic improvement. However, the study also showed no improvement for pruritus and fatigue, liver transplantation, or incidence of death.[23]


Liver Transplantation

Indications for liver transplantation in patients with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) include variceal bleeding or portal gastropathy, intractable ascites, recurrent cholangitis, progressive muscle wasting, and hepatic encephalopathy. Survival rates have been shown to be 93.7% at 1 year, 92.2% at 2 years, 86.4% at 5 years, and 69.8% at 10 years. However, PSC has been shown to recur in 15-20% of patients after transplantation.[24, 25, 26]

In addition to liver transplantation, procedures include proctocolectomy for patients with ulcerative colitis and biliary reconstructive procedures.[27] Note that proctocolectomy in patients with both PSC and ulcerative colitis has no effect on the course of PSC.

Posttransplantation complications include recurrence of PSC, worsening of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) activity, and de novo IBD occurrence.[2]


Diet and Activity

Patients with steatorrhea are encouraged to include medium-chain triglycerides in their diet. Fat-soluble vitamin deficiency correction should be attempted by supplementation. Oral supplementation is necessary if associated pancreatic enzyme deficiency is present. Calcium supplementation for bone disease may also be needed.

Physical activity should not be restricted; however, in patients with osteoporosis, the possibility of fractures should temper the type of activity allowed.



A gastroenterologist must be consulted. When needed, surgical consultation should be initiated by the gastroenterologist and when liver transplantation is offered. An endocrinologist may be consulted for management of bone disease.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Vikas Khurana, MD, FACP, FACG Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Graduate Hospital, Gastroenterology Associates, PC

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Hisham Nazer, MB, BCh, FRCP, , DTM&H Professor of Pediatrics, Consultant in Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Clinical Nutrition, University of Jordan Faculty of Medicine, Jordan

Hisham Nazer, MB, BCh, FRCP, , DTM&H is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for Physician Leadership, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of the United Kingdom

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Praveen K Roy, MD, AGAF Chief of Gastroenterology, Presbyterian Hospital; Medical Director of Endoscopy, Presbyterian Medical Group; Adjunct Associate Research Scientist, Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute

Praveen K Roy, MD, AGAF is a member of the following medical societies: American Gastroenterological Association, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Tejinder Singh, MD Lead Physician, Section of Emergency Services, Overton Brooks Veterans Affairs Medical Center

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.


Simmy Bank, MD Chair, Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, Long Island Jewish Hospital, Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

David Greenwald, MD Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine, Fellowship Program Director, Department of Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, Montefiore Medical Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine

David Greenwald, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American College of Gastroenterology, American College of Physicians, American Gastroenterological Association, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, and New York Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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

Disclosure: Medscape Salary Employment

  1. Lindor KD, Kowdley KV, Harrison ME, American College of Gastroenterology. ACG Clinical Guideline: Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis. Am J Gastroenterol. 2015 May. 110 (5):646-59; quiz 660. [Medline].

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Periductal onion skin fibrosis seen in primary sclerosing cholangitis.
Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography performed in a patient with abnormal liver function test results shows multiple intrahepatic bile duct strictures and beading.
Double-contrast barium enema (same patient as in the previous image) shows filiform polyps and an ahaustral colon resulting from ulcerative colitis.
Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiogram shows dilatation, stricturing, and beading of the intrahepatic bile ducts. Note the surgical clips from a previous cholecystectomy.
T-tube cholangiogram shows irregularity of the common bile duct, stricturing, beading, and dilatation of the intrahepatic bile ducts. Note a calculus in the termination of the left hepatic duct (arrow).
Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography shows a normal-sized common bile duct, but strictures of both the left and right ducts are noted as well as a dilated proximal left hepatic duct.
Technetium-99m iminodiacetic acid scan shows retention of the radionuclide proximal to strictures in the distribution of the left hepatic duct. Note the lack of filling of the gallbladder because of a previous cholecystectomy. Isotope has entered the small bowel.
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