Acute (ascending) cholangitis.
Cholangitis is an infection of an obstructed biliary system, most commonly due to common bile duct stones. Bacteria reach the biliary system either by ascent from the intestine or by the portal venous system. Once the biliary system is colonized, biliary stasis allows bacterial multiplication, and increased biliary pressures enable the bacteria to penetrate cellular barriers and enter the bloodstream. Patients with cholangitis are febrile, often have abdominal pain, and are jaundiced. A minority of patients present in shock with hypotension and altered mentation. There is usually a leukocytosis, and the alkaline phosphatase and bilirubin levels are generally elevated. Noninvasive diagnostic techniques include sonography, which is the recommended initial imaging modality. Standard CT, helical CT cholangiography, and magnetic resonance cholangiography often add important information regarding the type and level of obstruction. Endoscopic sonography is a more invasive means of obtaining high-quality imaging, and endoscopic or percutaneous cholangiography offers the opportunity to perform a therapeutic procedure at the time of diagnostic imaging. Endoscopic modalities currently are favored over percutaneous procedures because of a lower risk of complication. Treatment includes fluid resuscitation and antimicrobial agents that cover enteric flora. Biliary decompression is required when patients do not rapidly respond to conservative therapy. Definitive therapy can be performed by a surgical, percutaneous, or endoscopic route; the last is favored because it is the least invasive and has the lowest complication rate. Overall prognosis depends on the severity of the illness at the time of presentation and the cause of the biliary obstruction.
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