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Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis

Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) causes inflammation and scarring of the bile ducts located inside and outside the liver. The ducts carry bile — the liquid that helps break down fat in food — out of the liver. As scarring accumulates, the ducts become blocked causing bile to build up in the liver, which damages liver cells. Eventually, if left untreated, PSC can cause liver failure or hardening of the liver, called cirrhosis.

PSC typically begins between the ages of 30 and 50, occurring most often in men. Although the cause of the condition is unknown, research has shown that it may be an autoimmune disorder, meaning that the immune system mistakes certain body parts and organs as foreign invaders and thus wrongly attacks them. PSC also may be genetically linked to another condition, called ulcerative colitis, which causes inflammation of the colon. It is estimated that 70 percent of PSC patients also suffer from ulcerative colitis. In addition, people with PSC have an increased risk of developing cholangiocarcinoma and cancer of the bile ducts.

Our Approach to Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis

UCSF's dedicated team of hepatologists delivers cutting-edge, compassionate care for all kinds of liver disorders, including primary sclerosing cholangitis. As part of a robust research program, we are at the forefront of an exciting new era of better treatment options for liver disease.

For patients who need a transplant, UCSF offers a liver transplant program known for outstanding outcomes and survival statistics that are among the best in the country. Our program helped pioneer techniques that have made transplantation safer and more successful. Transplant provides a cure for some patients with primary sclerosing cholangitis.

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UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.