Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital



What is cholangitis?

Cholangitis is an inflammation of the bile duct system that is usually related to a bacterial infection. The bile duct system is the drainage system that carries bile from the liver and gallbladder into the area of the small intestine called the duodenum. The infection may occur suddenly or may be chronic.

What causes cholangitis?

There are several conditions that may trigger an infection in the bile duct system. The primary cause of cholangitis is an obstruction or blockage somewhere in the bile duct system. The blockage may be from stones, a tumor, blood clots, a narrowing that may occur after a surgical procedure, swelling of the pancreas, or from parasite invasion. Other causes include a backflow of bacteria from the small intestine, a blood infection (bacteriemia), or following a diagnostic procedure such as an endoscopic examination. The infection causes pressure to build-up in the bile duct system.

What are the symptoms of cholangitis?

Symptoms for cholangitis may be moderate to severe. The following are the most common symptoms of cholangitis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

The symptoms of cholangitis may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

What is a risk factor?

A risk factor is anything that may increase a person's chance of developing a disease. It may be an activity, such as smoking, diet, family history, or many other things. Different diseases, including cancers, have different risk factors.

Although these factors can increase a person's risk, they do not necessarily cause the disease. Some people with one or more risk factors never develop the disease, while others develop disease and have no known risk factors.

But, knowing your risk factors to any disease can help to guide you into the appropriate actions, including changing behaviors and being clinically monitored for the disease.

Who is at risk for cholangitis?

Cholangitis occurs more commonly in women than men. The onset is usually after age 55. Individuals who are at greater risk are those who have previously suffered from gallstones.

How is cholangitis diagnosed?

The pain associated with cholangitis often mimics gallstones. In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for cholangitis may include the following:

Treatment for cholangitis

Specific treatment for cholangitis will be determined by your doctor based on:

The goal for treating cholangitis is to attack the bacterial infection with antibiotics and also to identify the blockage in the bile duct system and manage it.

Treatment may include:

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Online Resources of Liver, Biliary, & Pancreatic Disorders


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