What is biliary obstruction?
Biliary obstruction is a blockage or clogging of the bile ducts, which are drainage tubes for bile to get from the liver into the small intestine. Bile is a fluid used by the body to digest fat. Bile is stored in the gallbladder, a bag-like organ that is attached to the side of the main bile duct. Fat and bile can occasionally solidify in the gallbladder and form gallstones. These stones are quite common; about 15 percent of Americans have them.
These stones can get stuck coming out of the gallbladder or in the bile ducts themselves. This can be very painful, lead to serious infections and possibly cause inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis). Other causes of biliary obstruction include bile duct strictures (scars), autoimmune conditions, pancreatic cancer, bile duct cancer and tumors in the abdomen.
What are the symptoms of biliary obstruction?
Abdominal pain in the upper middle and upper right is a common symptom of biliary obstruction. Jaundice or yellow skin is another common symptom. Patients may have either or both of these symptoms. Other times the blockage is only noted on blood tests and imaging, with no physical symptoms. Depending on the cause of the obstruction, other symptoms may be present such as weight loss, poor appetite and itchiness.
How is biliary obstruction diagnosed?
A careful history and physical exam are important parts to the diagnosis of biliary obstruction. Based on the discussion, tests may be ordered including blood tests and imaging tests like an abdominal ultrasound. Depending on the results, additional testing may be needed. Commonly a cause of the blockage can be found.
How is biliary obstruction treated?
Naturally, the primary goal is to relieve the blockage. In the case of a gallstone stuck in the common bile duct, this can be removed with a procedure performed by gastroenterologists called an
endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). Other blockages can be relieved with stents or plastic tubes placed during an ERCP to keep the bile duct draining well. Getting to the root cause is essential for treating this problem.
Our experienced team of physicians and advanced practice providers at Associates in Gastroenterology can help you with your concerns, questions and management of all aspects of gastrointestinal and liver disease. We would love to be your gastroenterology practice. Please schedule an appointment either by calling us (719-635-7321) or by clicking here.
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