Background: Chronic intrahepatic cholestasis is associated with severe pruritus that is often refractory to maximal medical management and leads to significantly impaired quality of life. The hypothesis in this study was that partial external biliary diversion (PEBD) can substantially improve intractable pruritus secondary to intrahepatic cholestasis with subsequent improvement of functional quality of life.
Methods: Parents' and/or patients' clinical rating of pruritus, growth percentiles, biochemical parameters, and liver biopsies performed before and after surgery were compared in a retrospective medical record review.
Results: Eight children underwent PEBD from 1990 through 1997. Complete follow-up data were available for seven patients. Before surgery, all patients had intense pruritus, which was not responsive to maximal medical therapy. Specimens obtained in preoperative liver biopsies showed moderate (n = 1), minimal (n = 6), or no (n = 1) portal fibrosis. After PEBD, all patients received ursodeoxycholic acid (10-15 mg/kg/dose two to three times daily) until resolution of pruritus. Of the seven patients with complete follow-up data, six had complete resolution of pruritus and sustained resolution up to 8 years after surgery. The patient with mild to moderate residual pruritus was the youngest to undergo PEBD. Growth improved from below the 5th percentile before surgery to the 5th through the 25th percentiles for five of six patients with more than 6 years' follow-up. All families reported improved quality of life, defined by school attendance and ability to resume normal activity with peers. There has been no clinical evidence of progression of liver disease.
Conclusion: Partial external biliary diversion is effective in the long-term treatment of pruritus refractory to medical therapy and provides a favorable outcome in a select group of patients with chronic intrahepatic cholestasis without cirrhosis.