Liver transplantation for primary biliary cirrhosis and primary sclerosing cholangitis: does medical treatment alter timing and selection?

J E Hay
Liver Transplantation and Surgery 1998, 4 (5): S9-17
Liver transplantation is a highly effective treatment for patients with advanced primary biliary cirrhosis and primary sclerosing cholangitis. Transplantation is indicated when the patient's survival with transplantation is better than without or, earlier than this, if the patient's quality of life is intolerable from intractable fatigue or pruritus. Medical therapies for chronic cholestatic liver diseases are very limited. Ursodeoxycholic acid therapy in primary biliary cirrhosis reduces cholestasis and prolongs transplant-free survival; no other drugs are of proven efficacy in primary biliary cirrhosis, and none have any benefit on the disease progression of primary sclerosing cholangitis. Aggressive endoscopic therapy may produce symptomatic and biochemical improvement in primary sclerosing cholangitis but should be done without the expectation of retarding disease progression. Bilirubin is one of five criteria of the Child-Turcotte-Pugh score, which is necessary for the United Network for Organ Sharing listing for orthotopic liver transplantation. In addition, it is a major prognostic indicator in all the predictive models for primary biliary cirrhosis. Bilirubin reduction with ursodeoxycholic acid therapy in primary biliary cirrhosis appears to parallel disease severity, and prognostic models utilizing bilirubin retain their predictive power for survival even in treated patients. In summary, medical therapies for chronic cholestatic liver disease have very little effect on disease progression and, subsequently, on the timing or selection for transplantation. Liver transplantation is the only definitive therapy for primary biliary cirrhosis and primary sclerosing cholangitis.

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