Background and aims: Pruritus is a distressing symptom in patients with primary biliary cirrhosis, and when uncontrollable it is an indication for liver transplantation. Since pruritus can result from unknown substances that accumulate systemically as a consequence of impaired biliary secretion, we have assessed whether a new extracorporeal albumin dialysis (ECAD) procedure, the molecular-adsorbing recirculating system-MARS, has any effect on pruritus of cholestasis.
Methods: Four patients with primary biliary cirrhosis and resistant pruritus were treated with two 7-h ECAD sessions 1 day apart. Pruritus was recorded from 15 days before the first session, before and after each session, and during the follow-up using a visual analogue scale (VAS). Standard liver tests as well as serum bile acid levels were also measured.
Results: There was a clear association between ECAD treatment and relief of itching, which promptly disappeared in two patients, or decreased markedly in the other two. One patient was free of pruritus for 18 months except for short periods with mild pruritus. The second patient experienced amelioration of itching, which almost disappeared completely and recurred mildly 4 months later. In the other two patients pruritus was alleviated markedly after ECAD but gradually recurred. These two patients were treated again 9 and 7 months later with favorable effects on pruritus. The scratching skin lesions improved or disappeared in parallel with the alleviation of itching. The albumin dialysis procedure did not result in liver test changes, except for circulating bile acids, which decreased in all the patients. No significant adverse effects were observed.
Conclusions: The ECAD procedure seems to be an effective alternative for the treatment of patients with pruritus of cholestasis who do not respond to other therapeutic methods.