Primary Biliary Cholangitis (PBC)

PBC is a chronic disease that can, little by little, destroy some of the tubes linking your liver to your gut. These tubes are called bile ducts.

PBC Facts

Nine out of ten people who get PBC are women, although there are reports that more men are being diagnosed of late. No one knows why this is. In particular, the following women are most at risk:
  • women who are middle aged or older.
  • women who have a family history of other autoimmune diseases, and PBC in particular.
  • Large studies have shown that smoking is also a risk factor for developing PBC
  • Doctors know that PBC is an autoimmune disease that occurs in some people because of a combination of subtle differences in their genetic make-up and environmental factors – so where you live and the environment around you, but also cigarette smoke and other toxins. In an autoimmune disease, the body’s defence mechanism (the immune system) wrongly identifies its own cells as ‘invaders’ and attacks them. In PBC, the immune system attacks the cells lining the bile ducts.
    Doctors understand many of the very subtle genetic changes that are associated with developing PBC, and these are the same gene changes that are seen in many other autoimmune conditions. However, experts are still trying to understand more about the environmental factors that play a part in PBC. Smoking is known to be a risk factor, and some doctors believe that an infection or other environmental toxin may act as a trigger.
    Very occasionally, PBC is diagnosed during or just after pregnancy. However, it’s not clear whether pregnancy itself triggers the condition or simply that pregnant women are under close medical supervision, meaning it’s more likely the symptoms of PBC are picked up during this time. Doctors don’t know why PBC is nearly only ever seen in adults, or why it’s much more common in women than in men.
    Drinking alcohol does not cause PBC.