Cholangitis

Definition:
Cholangitis is an infection of the common bile duct, the tube that carries bile from the liver to the gallbladder and intestines. Bile is a liquid made by the liver that helps digest food.

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Cholangitis can be life-threatening, and is regarded as a medical emergency. Characteristic symptoms include yellow discoloration of the skin or whites of the eyes, fever, abdominal pain, and in severe cases, low blood pressure and confusion. Initial treatment is with intravenous fluids and antibiotics, but there is often an underlying problem (such as gallstones or narrowing in the bile duct) for which further tests and treatments may be necessary, usually in the form of endoscopy to relieve obstruction of the bile duct.
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
Physical examination findings typically include jaundice and right upper quadrant tenderness.Charcot’s triad is a set of three common findings in cholangitis: abdominal pain, jaundice, and fever. This was assumed in the past to be present in 50–70% of cases, although more recently the frequency has been reported as 15–20%.Reynolds’ pentad includes the findings of Charcot’s triad with the presence of septic shock and mental confusion. This combination of symptoms indicates worsening of the condition and the development of sepsis, and is seen less commonly still.

In the elderly, the presentation may be atypical; they may directly collapse due to septicemia without first showing typical features. Those with an indwelling stent in the bile duct (see below) may not develop jaundice.

Causes:
Cholangitis is most often caused by a bacterial infection. 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.

Bile duct obstruction, which is usually present in acute cholangitis, is generally due to gallstones. 10–30% of cases, however, are due to other causes such as benign stricturing (narrowing of the bile duct without an underlying tumor), postoperative damage or an altered structure of the bile ducts such as narrowing at the site of an anastomosis (surgical connection), various tumors (cancer of the bile duct, gallbladder cancer, cancer of the ampulla of Vater, pancreatic cancer, cancer of the duodenum), anaerobic organisms such as Clostridium and Bacteroides (especially in the elderly and those who have undergone previous surgery of the biliary system). Parasites which may infect the liver and bile ducts may cause cholangitis; these include the roundworm Ascaris lumbricoides and the liver flukes Clonorchis sinensis, Opisthorchis viverrini and Opisthorchis felineus. In people with AIDS, a large number of opportunistic organisms has been known to cause AIDS cholangiopathy, but the risk has rapidly diminished since the introduction of effective AIDS treatment. Cholangitis may also complicate medical procedures involving the bile duct, especially ERCP. To prevent this, it is recommended that those undergoing ERCP for any indication receive prophylactic (preventative) antibiotics.

The presence of a permanent biliary stent (e.g. in pancreatic cancer) slightly increases the risk of cholangitis, but stents of this type are often needed to keep the bile duct patent under outside pressure

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Diagnosis:
Routine blood tests show features of acute inflammation (raised white blood cell count and elevated C-reactive protein level), and usually abnormal liver function tests (LFTs). In most cases the LFTs will be consistent with obstruction: raised bilirubin, alkaline phosphatase and ?-glutamyl transpeptidase. In the early stages, however, pressure on the liver cells may be the main feature and the tests will resemble those in hepatitis, with elevations in alanine transaminase and aspartate transaminase.

Blood cultures are often performed in people with fever and evidence of acute infection. These yield the bacteria causing the infection in 36% of cases, usually after 24–48 hours of incubation. Bile, too, may be sent for culture during ERCP (see below). The most common bacteria linked to ascending cholangitis are gram-negative bacilli: Escherichia coli (25–50%), Klebsiella (15–20%) and Enterobacter (5–10%). Of the gram-positive cocci, Enterococcus causes 10–20%.

You may have the following tests to look for blockages:

*Abdominal ultrasound

*Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

*Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)

*Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiogram (PTCA)

*You may also have the following blood tests:

#Bilirubin level
#Liver enzyme levels
#Liver function tests
#White blood count (WBC)
Treatment:
Quick diagnosis and treatment are very important.Antibiotics to cure infection is the first treatment done in most cases. ERCP or other surgical procedure is done when the patient is stable.Patients who are very ill or are quickly getting worse may need surgery right away.

Cholangitis requires admission to hospital. Intravenous fluids are administered, especially if the blood pressure is low, and antibiotics are commenced. Empirical treatment with broad-spectrum antibiotics is usually necessary until it is known for certain which pathogen is causing the infection, and to which antibiotics it is sensitive. Combinations of penicillins and aminoglycosides are widely used, although ciprofloxacin has been shown to be effective in most cases, and may be preferred to aminoglycosides because of fewer side effects. Metronidazole is often added to specifically treat the anaerobic pathogens, especially in those who are very ill or at risk of anaerobic infections. Antibiotics are continued for 7–10 days. Drugs that increase the blood pressure (vasopressors) may also be required to counter the low blood pressure.
Prognosis:
Acute cholangitis carries a significant risk of death, the leading cause being irreversible shock with multiple organ failure (a possible complication of severe infections). Improvements in diagnosis and treatment have led to a reduction in mortality: before 1980, the mortality rate was greater than 50%, but after 1980 it was 10–30%. Patients with signs of multiple organ failure are likely to die unless they undergo early biliary drainage and treatment with systemic antibiotics. Other causes of death following severe cholangitis include heart failure and pneumonia.

Risk Factors:
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.

Risk factors indicating an increased risk of death include older age, female gender, a history of liver cirrhosis, biliary narrowing due to cancer, acute renal failure and the presence of liver abscesses. Complications following severe cholangitis include renal failure, respiratory failure (inability of the respiratory system to oxygenate blood and/or eliminate carbon dioxide), cardiac arrhythmia, wound infection, pneumonia, gastrointestinal bleeding and myocardial ischemia (lack of blood flow to the heart, leading to heart attacks).

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.
Disclaimer: This information is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advise or help. It is always best to consult with a Physician about serious health concerns. This information is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe remedies.This is purely for educational purpose.
Resources:
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000290.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ascending_cholangitis

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