Management of primary sclerosing cholangitis and its complications: an algorithmic approach

Hepatol Int. 2021 Feb;15(1):6-20. doi: 10.1007/s12072-020-10118-x. Epub 2020 Dec 30.


Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) is a rare cholestatic liver disease, characterized by multiple strictures and dilatations of the intra- and extrahepatic bile ducts, leading to progressive liver fibrosis, in 10-15% cholangiocarcinoma, and ultimately end-stage liver disease. The pathogenesis is poorly understood, but (epi-)genetic factors, mechanisms of innate and adaptive immunity, toxic effects of hydrophobic bile acids, and possibly intestinal dysbiosis appear to be involved. The strong link with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is associated with a markedly enhanced risk of colorectal cancer which next to cholangiocarcinoma represents the most serious diagnostic challenge in long-term PSC management. Despite extensive research, no medical treatment has been proven so far to prolong the time to liver transplantation (LTx), which remains the effective treatment in late-stage disease. Recurrence of PSC after LTx is observed in up to 20% of patients. Here, we briefly summarize actual views on PSC pathogenesis and provide an algorithmic approach to diagnostic procedures and recommendations for the management of PSC and its complications. We describe promising treatment options subject to current clinical trials.

Keywords: Bezafibrate; Bile acids; Cholangiocarcinoma; Cholestasis; FXR; Liver transplantation; Obeticholic acid; Primary sclerosing cholangitis; Pruritus; Ursodeoxycholic acid.

Publication types

  • Review