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Biliary cirrhosis, primary Patient friendly summary

Computer illustration depicting cirrhosis of the liver.

    Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) causes irritation and swelling of the liver bile ducts.  The swelling blocks the flow of bile. This obstruction damages liver cells and leads to scarring (cirrhosis).

    Risk factors

    Risk factors for primary biliary cirrhosis include:

    • Active or passive smoking
    • Frequent infections, especially of the urinary tract

    Use of oral contraceptives is associated with lower primary biliary cirrhosis risk.

    Sunlight exposure and primary biliary cirrhosis risk

    Studies from various parts of the globe indicate solar ultraviolet-B (UVB) exposure may have a role in lowering risk of primary biliary cirrhosis:

    • In northeast England, researchers compared people living in rural areas to those living in urban industrial regions. People in industrial regions had four times the rate of primary biliary cirrhosis.
    • A study in Sweden found higher rates of primary biliary cirrhosis in the northern part of the country. This area gets less sunshine.
    • Lower primary biliary cirrhosis rates have been found in Mediterranean countries and in Australia, areas that typically get a lot of sunshine.

    Vitamin D and primary biliary cirrhosis

    There are no reported studies of vitamin D and its effect on primary biliary cirrhosis. However, vitamin D benefits may be determined indirectly. The presence of vitamin D–sensitive diseases prior to primary biliary cirrhosis may be an indicator.

    Several studies have found a link between different vitamin D receptor (VDR) alleles and primary biliary cirrhosis risk. VDRs are triggered by calcitriol, the active form of vitamin D, and help turn genes on and off. Alleles are different genetic forms of VDRs.


    It is possible that sunlight exposure may help reduce primary biliary cirrhosis risk, but more research is needed.


    There is no evidence that vitamin D can be used to treat primary biliary cirrhosis.

    Find out more...

    We will be adding a detailed evidence summary on this topic in the near future.  Please check back soon to find out more.

    Page last edited: 13 October 2011