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7th December, 20201 min read

Acute cholangitis: causes and treatment

Medical reviewer: Dr Ann Nainan
Author: Dr Lauretta Ihonor
Last reviewed: 01/12/2020
Medically reviewed

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Acute cholangitis is an inflammation of the bile ducts that’s usually caused by a bacterial infection when bile can’t flow through the ducts as normal.

Different things can stop bile from flowing as normal, but the most common cause is stones in your bile duct.

If you have acute cholangitis, you may have pain and tenderness in the upper right side of your tummy, fever and yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (known as jaundice).

How is acute cholangitis diagnosed?

To diagnose acute cholangitis, a doctor will usually ask about your symptoms and any medical conditions you have or have had in the past. They will often also do a physical examination.

You may also need tests, including:

  • blood tests – to check your liver function and for infection
  • imaging tests – usually an ultrasound scan

How is acute cholangitis treated?

You will usually need antibiotics to treat acute cholangitis. In some cases, you may also need to have your bile ducts drained, using a special type of imaging procedure (called endoscopic retrograde cholangio-pancreatography [ERCP]) or an operation.

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