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What is cholestatic hepatitis?

Dr. Jack Merendino, MD
Endocrinology Diabetes & Metabolism
Hepatitis is a term that refers to a condition that causes inflammation of liver cells. We usually think of hepatitis as an infectious condition caused by viruses such as hepatitis A, B or C. But inflammation of the liver has other causes, including alcohol and prescription or over-the-counter medications.

The term “cholestatic” means that something has obstructed the flow of bile in the liver, gallbladder or ducts leading from the gallbladder to the intestine. Bile is a substance made by the liver that collects in the gallbladder. When a person eats, the gallbladder squeezes the bile out the common bile duct and into the intestine, where it aids in the digestion of food, especially fats. A “cholestatic” situation results when something interferes with the movement of bile from the liver to the gallbladder or from the gallbladder to the small intestine. The most common cause is a gallstone that obstructs the common bile duct. Other physical forms of obstruction occur as well, such as when a tumor compresses the common bile duct. Obstructed flow can also result from medications or processes that interfere with normal liver cell function or normal transport of bile through the ducts.

A cholestatic problem causes characteristic changes in the blood. The levels of liver enzymes referred to alkaline phosphotase and gamma glutamyl-transferase (GGT) rise. Bilirubin levels also go up. Bilirubin is the substance that causes jaundice, or the yellow-orange color of someone with a serious liver problem.

If you put these two terms together, it’s easy to see that “cholestatic hepatitis” is any form of liver disease that causes inflammation of the liver and a problem with bile transport. There are many causes of this condition, including gallstones or “gallbladder sludge” (an unflattering term meaning that the bile is thick and has formed microscopic stones), tumors that obstruct the bile ducts, autoimmune disorders such as primary biliary cirrhosis and sclerosing cholangitis and certain hereditary problems.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.