Pruritus can be a debilitating symptom in patients with chronic cholestasis. Based on previous reports of its efficacy, we evaluated the impact of rifampin on the pruritus associated with primary biliary cirrhosis. Fourteen patients were included in a randomized, crossover study. After a 15-day washout period, subjects were followed for three weeks. During the first and third week, patients received 600 mg of rifampin or placebo; no treatment was administered during the second week. Pruritus was subjectively scored on a scale from 0 to 100. With rifampin, pruritus disappeared in 11 patients and partially improved in three; with placebo, only two had a partial response (P less than 0.001). Six patients with a prior poor or no response to cholestyramine improved with rifampin. No changes in biochemical tests or side effects were observed during this period. We conclude that short-term administration of rifampin relieves pruritus in primary biliary cirrhosis. When administered over a period of eight months in an open study, the relief of pruritus was maintained, while one individual developed an allergic reaction. Rifampin appears to be a safe drug in the management of the pruritus of primary biliary cirrhosis.