Learn About Bile Duct Obstruction

What is the definition of Bile Duct Obstruction?

Bile duct obstruction is a blockage in the tubes that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder and small intestine.

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What are the alternative names for Bile Duct Obstruction?

Biliary obstruction

What are the causes of Bile Duct Obstruction?

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 level of bilirubin in the blood.

The possible causes of a blocked bile duct include:

  • Cysts of the common bile duct
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the porta hepatis
  • Gallstones
  • Inflammation of the bile ducts
  • Narrowing of the bile ducts from scarring
  • Injury from gallbladder surgery
  • Tumors of the bile ducts or pancreas
  • Tumors that have spread to the biliary system
  • Liver and bile duct worms (flukes)

The risk factors for a blocked bile duct include:

  • History of gallstones, chronic pancreatitis, or pancreatic cancer
  • Injury to the abdominal area
  • Recent biliary surgery
  • Recent biliary cancer (such as bile duct cancer)

The blockage can also be caused by infections. This is more common in people with weakened immune systems.

What are the symptoms of Bile Duct Obstruction?

Symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain in the upper right side
  • Dark urine
  • Fever
  • Itching
  • Jaundice (yellow skin color)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Clay-colored or pale stools
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What are the current treatments for Bile Duct Obstruction?

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 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 endoscopic or percutaneous (through the skin next to the liver) dilation. A tube may need to be placed to allow drainage.

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What is the outlook (prognosis) for Bile Duct Obstruction?

If the blockage is not corrected, it can lead to life-threatening infection and a dangerous buildup 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.

What are the possible complications of Bile Duct Obstruction?

Left untreated, the possible complications include infections, sepsis, and liver disease, such as biliary cirrhosis.

When should I contact a medical professional for Bile Duct Obstruction?

Contact your provider if you:

  • Notice a change in the color of your urine and stools
  • Develop jaundice
  • Have abdominal pain that doesn't go away or keeps recurring
How do I prevent Bile Duct Obstruction?

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.

Digestive system
Endocrine glands
Bile pathway
Biliary obstruction - series - Normal anatomy
What are the latest Bile Duct Obstruction Clinical Trials?
Flexible Percutaneous Transhepatic Cholangiopancreatoscopy (PTCS) in Complex Pancreaticobiliary Disease

Summary: To document the clinical utility of percutaneous cholangiopancreatoscopy using a thin, disposable, flexible endoscope for evaluation and treatment of complex pancreaticobiliary disease in a prospective, multi-center case series

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Repeatability and Reproducibility of Multiparametric MRI (LiverMultiScan)

Summary: This study aims to prospectively assess the repeatability and reproducibility of iron-corrected T1 (cT1), T2*, and hepatic proton density fat fraction (PDFF) quantification with multiparametric MRI using the LiverMultiScan™ (LMS, Perspectum Diagnostics, Oxford, UK) protocol across different field strengths, scanner manufacturers and models.

What are the Latest Advances for Bile Duct Obstruction?
Non-syndromic bile duct paucity and non-IgE cow's milk allergy: a case report of challenging nutritional management and maltodextrin intolerance.
Gastrointestinal endoscopy in the diagnosis and treatment of biliary liver disease.
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Effect of fully covered self-expandable metal stents completely inserted into the common bile duct in the treatment of benign biliary stricture.
Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date: May 04, 2022
Published By: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

What are the references for this article ?

Fogel EL, Sherman S. Diseases of the gallbladder and bile ducts. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 146.

Lidofsky SD. Jaundice. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 21.