Cholangitis refers to inflammation of the common bile duct due to one or more gallstones passing from the gallbladder and becoming lodged, thus obstructing flow of bile from the liver to the small intestine.
Causes of the cholangitis
Bile duct stones, as well as medical procedures that impact the common bile duct, are the most significant factors in developing cholangitis.
Some causes include:
- a bacterial infection
- a blockage caused by one or more gallstones in the biliary tree
- a blockage caused unintentially via manipulation during a medical procedure
- a tumor that has impacted the biliary tree
An individual is more likely to develop cholangitis if any of these risk factors are present:
- a history of gallstones
- sclerosing cholangitis, a condition in which the ducts to the liver have been damaged
- HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)
- an abnormally narrow bile duct, which can be congenital (meaning the person was born with this condition)
Cholangitis poses a significant health risk, and even death, if not treated promptly. It primarily affects people in their 50s and 60s. There is no race or sex that is at a significantly greater risk of developing cholangitis.
Symptoms of the cholangitis
Symptoms may include:
- abdominal pain in the upper right area of the gut
- fever and chills
- clay-colored stools
- dark urine
- nausea and vomiting
- jaundice (a yellow tinge that appears in the eyes and on the skin)
Pain can be intermittent, and may also spread to the back. Pains can be mild or intense, depending on the severity of the condition.
Because these symptoms are common to a number of conditions which affect the biliary tree, your doctor may prescribe several tests to determine the cause of your symptoms.
- ultrasound, which can be used to detect the presence of stones
- ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography)
- MRCP (magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography)
- a cholangiogram or percutaneous transhepatic cholangiogram
The following blood tests may be routinely done to determine the present state of certain levels of enzymes in your bloodstream:
- blood counts, especially the white blood count as this is an indicator of infection
- bilirubin level (a pigment that is found in a person's blood and stool)
- liver enzyme and function tests