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Clin Liver Dis. 2008 May;12(2):385-406; x. doi: 10.1016/j.cld.2008.02.013.

Pruritus in primary biliary cirrhosis: pathogenesis and therapy.

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  • Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center, Department of Medicine, 760 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11026, USA. nora.bergasa@nychhc.org <nora.bergasa@nychhc.org>


Pruritus is a symptom experienced by patients who have primary biliary cirrhosis. It seems to result from pruritogens that (as a result of cholestasis) accumulate in plasma and other tissues, and which lead to altered neurotrasnmission. Administration of medications that change opioid neurotransmission (ie, opiate antagonists) results in relief of pruritus and its behavioral manifestation, scratching. Through unknown mechanisms, other centrally acting medications, including antidepressants, may have ameliorating effects on the pruritus of cholestasis. Stimulating endogenous detoxification pathways in the liver may also lead to the amelioration of pruritus. The removal of pruritogens through administration of nonabsorbable resins, nasobiliary drainage, biliary diversion, plasmapheresis, and various dialysis procedures is reported to decrease pruritus in liver disease, although the substances that are presumably removed are unknown.

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