As liver damage progresses, people with primary biliary cirrhosis may develop a number of serious problems, including:

  • Cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is liver scarring that makes it difficult for the liver to function. Cirrhosis can occur in the later stages of primary biliary cirrhosis. Ongoing cirrhosis can lead to liver failure, which occurs when your liver is no longer able to function properly.
  • Increased pressure in the portal vein (portal hypertension). Blood from your intestine, spleen and pancreas enters your liver through a large blood vessel called the portal vein. When scar tissue blocks normal circulation through your liver, blood backs up, much like water behind a dam, leading to increased pressure within the vein. And because blood doesn't flow normally through your liver, hormones, drugs and other toxins aren't filtered properly from your bloodstream.
  • Enlarged veins (varices). When circulation through the portal vein is slowed or blocked, blood may back up into other veins — mainly those in your stomach and esophagus. The blood vessels are thin walled, and increased pressure in your veins can cause bleeding in your upper stomach or esophagus. This bleeding is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate medical care.
  • Liver cancer. The destruction of healthy liver tissue that occurs in cirrhosis increases your risk of liver cancer.
  • Weak bones (osteoporosis). People with primary biliary cirrhosis have an increased risk of weak, brittle bones that may break more easily.
  • Vitamin deficiencies. A lack of bile affects your digestive system's ability to absorb fats and the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K. This sometimes leads to deficiencies of these vitamins in advanced cases of primary biliary cirrhosis.
  • Memory problems. Some people with primary biliary cirrhosis have problems with memory and concentration.
  • An increased risk of other disease. In addition to bile duct and liver damage, people with primary biliary cirrhosis are likely to have other metabolic or immune system disorders, including thyroid problems, limited scleroderma (CREST syndrome) and rheumatoid arthritis.
Nov. 16, 2011

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