What is the Role of Ursodeoxycholic Acid in Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis?

While previous studies of ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) at high doses (28-30 mg/kg/day) have been shown to have detrimental effects, a number of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have shown that low-dose UDCA has been associated with biochemical improvements but no differences in endpoints like death, liver transplantation or cholangiocarcinoma.  Given this conflicting information, a new study (Hepatology 2014; 60: 931-40, editorial 785-88) has examined the effects of withdrawal of low-dose UDCA.

In this cohort, the median age was 34 years, “62% were male, 69% had IBD, 19% had cirrhosis, and the baseline UDCA dose was 10-15 mg/kg/day.”

Key findings:

  • “At 3 months, discontinuation of UDCA in patients with PSC causes significant deterioration in liver biochemistry and influences concentrations of bile acid metabolites.”
  • Alkaline phosphatase increased 75.6%, GGT increased 117.9%, bilirubin increased by 50%, aspartate aminotransferase increased by 45.0%, and alanine amiontransferase increased by 63.9%
  • The Mayo Risk Score for PSC (associated with PSC prognosis) also increased 0.5 points from baseline.

Conclusion (from editorial): “there may still be a role for judicious use of UDCA in patients with well-compensated disease.”  A suggested “yet unproven” algorithm for use of UDCA is noted in Figure 1 pg 787 and considers UDCA for patients with alkaline phosphatase >1.5x ULN and/or PSC-associated symptoms like pruritus.  If no clinical improvement within 6 months, then stopping UDCA is recommended.

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