Background & aims: Ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) is used for the treatment of cholestatic liver diseases including primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) for which it has a positive effect on laboratory values, may delay the development of liver failure and prolong the transplant-free disease period. Standard doses of UDCA (8-15 mg/kg daily) have been shown to be ineffective in the treatment of primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). We report on the findings (clinical, biochemical, histological, and cholangiographic) and side effects of a 2-year double-blind placebo-controlled preliminary study of high-dose UDCA in PSC patients.
Methods: Twenty-six patients with PSC were randomized to high-dose (20 mg/kg daily) UDCA or placebo. Cholangiography and liver biopsy were performed at entry and after 2 years. Symptoms, clinical signs, and liver biochemical tests were recorded at 3 monthly intervals.
Results: High-dose UDCA did not influence symptoms, but there was a significant improvement in liver biochemistry (serum alkaline phosphatase, P = 0.03; gamma-glutamyl transferase, P = 0.01) and a significant reduction in progression in cholangiographic appearances (P = 0.015) and liver fibrosis as assessed by disease staging (P = 0.05). In the treatment group, a significant increase in total bile acids and saturation with UDCA >70% confirmed patient compliance. No significant side effects were reported.
Conclusions: High-dose UDCA may be of clinical benefit in PSC, but trials with a larger number of participants and of longer duration are required to establish whether the effect of high-dose UDCA on liver biochemistry, histology, and cholangiography in patients with PSC is translated into improved long-term survival.