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Diagnosis / Obstructed Bile Duct

Obstructed Bile Duct

You have several ducts in your body that help keep your digestive system running smoothly by helping to transport bile, a fluid that aids in digestion. If one of these ducts is blocked, it is known as a biliary obstruction, and left untreated, it can cause serious health conditions – even life-threatening liver diseases.

Function and Types of Bile Ducts

Bile is a dark colored fluid that is produced by your liver and stored in your gallbladder until it is needed. Its function is to help digest and absorb fat, so when you eat, the bile is released from the gallbladder into a bile duct, then passes through the pancreas and into the duodenum, which is the first section of your small intestine. Bile also helps remove waste products from the liver.

There are different types of bile ducts, including ones located in the liver as well as in the gallbladder. The liver ducts are known as the intrahepatic and extrahepatic ducts. The intrahepatic ducts are a system of small tubes within the liver that are responsible for collecting and transporting bile to the extrahepatic ducts. The extrahepatic ducts have a tube on both the right and left side of the liver, and as the ducts descend towards the small intestine, they merge to form what is called the common hepatic duct.

The duct leading from the gallbladder is called the biliary duct, and it too opens onto the common hepatic duct. From this juncture on, the duct is known as the common bile duct. It continues to transport the bile through the pancreas, finally emptying its contents into the duodenum.

Biliary Obstruction

If you have an obstruction in one of your bile ducts, it can result in several serious and sometimes life-threatening health conditions. Biliary obstruction can lead to inflammation, liver cirrhosis, chronic bile duct disease or biliary cancer.

The most prevalent cause of biliary obstruction is gallstones, but other causes include:

  • Inflammation
  • Infection
  • Damage from surgery or trauma
  • Blood clots
  • Benign tumors
  • Cancer
  • Other diseases that affect the gallbladder, pancreas or liver

Because women are at a higher risk for gallstones, they are often also at a higher risk of developing a bile duct obstruction.

Risk Factors and Symptoms

Risk factors for biliary obstructions are usually dependent on whatever is causing the obstruction (such as a gallstone). However, some common risk factors include:

  • History of gallstones
  • High cholesterol
  • Recent surgery or injury to the upper right side of the abdomen
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Pregnancy
  • Gender
  • Age

Similar to the risk factors for biliary obstruction, symptoms can vary depending on the cause of the obstruction, and may include:

  • Pain in the upper right side of the abdomen
  • Nausea, vomiting or loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Sweating or chills
  • Dark urine
  • Pale or greasy stools
  • Yellowing of the whites of the eyes or skin (jaundice)

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, or have been diagnosed with biliary duct obstruction, it can be a precursor to an even more urgent health concern. Call IVC today at 503-612-0498 to schedule an appointment with one of our team of experienced and professional interventional radiologists. We offer treatment using both surgical and nonsurgical methods, so that you can start the healing and recovery process as soon as possible, preventing more severe problems down the road.

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Jason Bauer, MD RVT
Michael Pfister, MD RVT

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