The effect of ursodeoxycholic acid therapy on the natural course of primary biliary cirrhosis

Gastroenterology. 2005 Feb;128(2):297-303. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2004.11.009.


Background and aims: We used a multistate modeling approach to assess the effect of ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) therapy on the natural course of primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC), which remains controversial.

Methods: Our population included 262 patients with PBC who had received 13-15 mg/kg UDCA daily for a mean of 8 years (range, 1-22 years). Data were analyzed using a multistate Markov model, with histologic stage progression, death, and orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT) as main end points. Survival without OLT was compared with that predicted by the updated Mayo model and with the expected survival in the control population.

Results: Forty-five patients developed cirrhosis, 20 underwent OLT, and 16 died by the censor date. Ten deaths were due to liver disease. The overall survival rates were 92% at 10 years and 82% at 20 years. Survival rates without OLT were 84% and 66% at 10 and 20 years, respectively, which were slightly lower than the survival rate of an age- and sex-matched control population (relative risk [RR], 1.4; P = .1) but better than the spontaneous survival rate as predicted by the updated Mayo model (RR, .5; P < .01). The survival rate of patients in stage 1 and 2 was similar to that in the control population (RR, .8; P = .5), whereas the probability of death or OLT remained significantly increased in treated patients in late histologic stages (RR, 2.2; P < .05).

Conclusions: Treatment with UDCA alone normalizes the survival rate of patients with PBC when given at early stages. However, there is a continued need for new therapeutic options in patients with advanced disease.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cholagogues and Choleretics / therapeutic use*
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis, Biliary / drug therapy*
  • Liver Cirrhosis, Biliary / mortality
  • Male
  • Markov Chains
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Biological
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Survival Analysis
  • Ursodeoxycholic Acid / therapeutic use*


  • Cholagogues and Choleretics
  • Ursodeoxycholic Acid