Cholangitis

Toggle: English / Spanish

Definition

Cholangitis is an infection of the bile ducts, the tubes that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder and intestines. Bile is a liquid made by the liver that helps digest food.

Causes

Cholangitis is most often caused by bacteria. This can occur when the duct is blocked by something, such as a gallstone or tumor. The infection causing this condition may also spread to the liver.

Risk factors include a previous history of gallstones, sclerosing cholangitis, HIV, narrowing of the common bile duct, and rarely, travel to countries where you might catch a worm or parasite infection.

Symptoms

The following symptoms may occur:

  • Pain on the upper right side or upper middle part of the abdomen. It may also be felt in the back or below the right shoulder blade. The pain may come and go and feel sharp, cramp-like, or dull.
  • Fever and chills.
  • Dark urine and clay-colored stools.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Yellowing of the skin (jaundice), which may come and go.

Exams and Tests

You may have the following tests to look for blockages:

You may also have the following blood tests:

Treatment

Quick diagnosis and treatment are very important.

Antibiotics to cure infection are the first treatment done in most cases. ERCP or other surgical procedure is done when the person is stable.

People who are very ill or are quickly getting worse may need surgery right away.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outcome is very often good with treatment, but poor without it.

Possible Complications

Complications may include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of cholangitis.

Prevention

Treatment of gallstones, tumors, and infestations of parasites may reduce the risk for some people. A metal or plastic stent that is placed in the bile system may be needed to prevent the infection from returning.

References

Anstee QM, Jones DEJ. Liver and biliary tract disease. In: Walker BR, Colledge NR, Ralston SH, Perman ID, eds. Davidson's Principles and Practice of Medicine. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2012:chap 23.

Fogel EL, Sherman S. Diseases of the gallbladder and liver. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 155.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 5/11/2016
  • Subodh K. Lal, MD, gastroenterologist with Gastrointestinal Specialists of Georgia, Austell, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch)

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2013 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.