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Alternative Names Return to topBiliary obstruction
Definition Return to top
Bile duct obstruction is a blockage in the tubes that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder and small intestine.
Causes Return to top
Bile is a liquid released by the liver. It contains cholesterol, bile salts, and waste products such as bilirubin. Bile salts help your body break down (digest) fats. Bile passes out of the liver through the bile ducts and is stored in the gallbladder. After a meal, it is released into the small intestine.
When the bile ducts become blocked, bile builds up in the liver, and jaundice (yellow color of the skin) develops due to the increasing levels of bilirubin in the blood.
The possible causes of a blocked bile duct include:
The risk factors include:
The blockage can also be caused by infections. This is more common in persons with weakened immune systems.
Symptoms Return to top
Exams and Tests Return to top
Your health care provider will examine your abdomen and may be able to feel the gallbladder.
The following blood test results could be a sign of a possible blockage:
The following tests may be used to investigate a possible blocked bile duct:
Treatment Return to top
The goal of treatment is to relieve the blockage. Stones may be removed using an endoscope during an ERCP.
In some cases, surgery is required to bypass the blockage. The gallbladder will usually be surgically removed if the blockage is caused by gallstones. Your health care provider may prescribe antibiotics if an infection is suspected.
If the blockage is caused by cancer, the duct may need to be widened. This procedure is called endoscope or percutaneous (through the skin next to the liver) dilation. A tube may need to be placed to allow drainage.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
If the blockage is not corrected, it can lead to life-threatening infection and a dangerous build up of bilirubin.
If the blockage lasts a long time, chronic liver disease can result. Most obstructions can be treated with endoscopy or surgery. Obstructions caused by cancer often have a worse outcome.
Possible Complications Return to top
Left untreated, the possible complications include infections, sepsis, and liver disease, such as biliary cirrhosis.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if you notice a change in the color of your urine and stools or you develop jaundice.
Prevention Return to top
Be aware of any risk factors you have, so that you can get prompt diagnosis and treatment if a bile duct becomes blocked. The blockage itself may not be preventable.Update Date: 9/20/2008 Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.