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People often assume that liver diseases are primarily caused by alcoholism, and if you aren’t a heavy drinker, you don’t have a reason to pay much attention to your liver. In reality, there is a serious and overlooked women’s health condition completely un-related to alcohol, that – since 1988 – has been the second-leading overall cause of liver transplants in women in the U.S., behind hepatitis C.
Primary biliary cholangitis, formerly known as primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC), is a little-known chronic autoimmune disease that affects the liver. An estimated 90% of people with PBC are women, and the disease often strikes in the prime of their lives, with the majority of diagnoses occurring between ages 35 and 60.
PBC can progress slowly and many people don’t have symptoms, especially in the early stages of the disease. Once they appear, initial symptoms are somewhat subtle, including fatigue, constant itching, abdominal pain, and yellowing and/or darkening of the skin, so women may not think to ask their doctor about them.
With so many competing health issues for women to contend with, discussing liver health with a doctor is not likely to be at the top of their priority lists. Unfortunately, ignoring it can have dramatic consequences, if left untreated this rare disease can lead to liver scarring, cirrhosis, liver failure or death.
Because the liver is such a vital part of a woman’s health, and in light of some of the challenges in diagnosing the disease, experts recommend consumers, especially women:
- Recognize that PBC is a liver disease that primarily affects women
- Discuss their liver health with their doctor at their next appointment
- Ask for an alkaline phosphatase (ALP) measurement, which is a key indicator of PBC progression and can help diagnose and track the risks associated with the disease
Dr. Kowdley joined me to discuss the need for more information to better understand PBC; what it is, the symptoms, and what happens with the disease. She also shared the latest treatments for the disease, and explain the importance of patients asking their doctor for a liver test at their next appointment.
Take a look below.