Pruritus and fatigue in primary biliary cirrhosis

Clin Liver Dis. 2003 Nov;7(4):879-900. doi: 10.1016/s1089-3261(03)00105-3.


Pruritus and fatigue are the most common symptoms of patients with PBC, and both have marked negative impact on quality of life. Over the past decade, evidence has emerged supporting a role of the central nervous system in the pathogenesis of these two common manifestations of PBC. There is no evidence that the pruritus of cholestasis is mediated in the skin. Clinical and laboratory data do support a role of the opioid neurotransmitter system in the mediation of the pruritus of cholestasis; a central mechanism has been proposed. Treatment with opiate antagonist is thus a specific alternative. Studies of the behavioral consequence of the pruritus of cholestasis, scratching activity, allow for the design of clinical trials with objective end-points. The etiology of fatigue is unknown. A central component is being considered. The identification of objective alterations in fatigue and the adoption of a definition that incorporates the perception and the behavioral consequences of fatigue should facilitate the development of objective methodology. The potential role of various neurotransmitter systems, including the serotonin system and the opioid system, in the mediation of the fatigue of PBC seems to merit further investigation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cholestasis / drug therapy
  • Cholestasis / etiology
  • Cholestasis / physiopathology*
  • Fatigue / drug therapy
  • Fatigue / etiology
  • Fatigue / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis, Biliary / complications
  • Liver Cirrhosis, Biliary / drug therapy
  • Liver Cirrhosis, Biliary / physiopathology*
  • Pruritus / drug therapy
  • Pruritus / etiology
  • Pruritus / physiopathology*