Bile is a fluid which contains bile salts, cholesterol and waste products. It is released by the liver into the gallbladder and after a person consumes food, it is discharged in the small intestine. Bile helps the body to break down and digest fats. Sometimes, the supply of bile from the liver to the gallbladder and the intestine is blocked due to certain obstructions in the tubes that carry bile from one organ to another in the body. Due to this obstruction, bile, instead of flowing to the gallbladder, gets accumulated in the liver. This causes an increase in the levels of waste products such as bilirubin in the blood.
- Presence of gallstones in the liver can block the flow of bile to the gallbladder and intestines.
- Choledochal cysts in the bile duct can cause such an obstruction too.
- Tumors in the pancreas, bile duct or the biliary system may lead to bile duct obstruction in some people.
- Swelling in the bile ducts can block the bile from moving to the gallbladder or the intestine.
- Biliary surgery or gallbladder surgery.
- Cancers such as pancreatic cancer, biliary cancer and liver cancer.
- Any injury or trauma to the abdomen.
- It could be due to infections resulting from a weak immune system.
- The porta hepatis is the opening in the liver from where blood vessels enter and exit. An enlargement of the lymph nodes in this area can cause obstruction in the bile duct.
- People who have had a recent biliary surgery or have suffered an injury in the abdominal area as well as those who have a history of pancreatic cancer and gallstones, are at a heightened risk of experiencing this condition.
Blockage of the bile duct produces a number of symptoms in the patient. It causes immense stomach pain usually restricted to the upper right quadrant. The patient experiences fever, itching, nausea and vomiting. The accumulation of waste matter in the liver may cause yellow color of the skin in the patient, known as jaundice. The urine becomes dark in color and the stools eliminated by the patient are light yellow or pale in color.
Blood tests showing elevated alkaline phosphatase levels, elevated liver enzymes or elevated bilirubin, confirm that there is a blockage. The treatment for blockages in the bile duct will depend upon the reason of the blockage. For instance, obstruction of the bile duct caused due to stones can be treated by the removal of the stones through a technique known as endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography or ERCP. Under this technique, a combination of endoscopy and fluoroscopy is used to remove the blockage. ERCP is also a useful technique to treat swelling in the bile ducts. On the other hand, for bile duct obstruction caused due to infections, doctors generally prescribe antibiotics. If gallstones are causing the problem, surgery is used in most cases. Surgery in this case involves the removal of the gallbladder itself. Lastly, bile duct obstruction caused due to cancer is treated by expanding the duct. For this, techniques such as endoscopy and percutaneous dilation are utilized.
Symptoms of bile duct obstruction are quite apparent, so there should be no delay in contacting the doctor for its treatment. If timely medical assistance is not given, it can hamper the liver function and prove to be fatal. If left untreated, it can lead to serious consequences such as a life-threatening liver disease or sepsis.