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Cholangitis


Overview :

Bile, which is needed for digestion, is produced in the liver and then enters the common bile duct (CBD) through the hepatic ducts. Bile enters the gallbladder between meals, when the muscle or sphincter that controls flow of bile between the CBD and intestine is closed. During this period, bile accumulates in the CBD; the pressure in the CBD rises, as would a pipe closed off at one end. The increase in pressure eventually causes the bile to flow into the gallbladder. During meals, the gallbladder contracts and the sphincter between the gallbladder and intestine relaxes, permitting bile to flow into the intestine and take part in digestion.

Bile that has just been produced by the liver is sterile (free of bacteria). This is partly due to its antibacterial properties; these are produced by the immunoglobulins (antibodies) secreted in bile, the bile acids which inhibit bacterial growth themselves, and mucus.

A small number of bacteria may be present in the bile ducts and gallbladder, getting there by moving backward from the intestine, which unlike the bile ducts, contains large numbers of bacteria. The normal flow of bile out of the ducts and into the intestine also helps keep too many organisms from multiplying. Bacteria also reach the bile ducts from the lymph tissue or from the blood stream.

When the passage of bile out of the ducts is blocked, the few bacteria that are there rapidly reproduce. A partial blockage to the flow of bile can occur when a stone from the gallbladder blocks the duct, and also allows bacteria to flow back into the CBD, and creates ideal conditions for their growth. Tumors, on the other hand, cause a more complete blockage of bile flow, both in and out, so fewer infections occur. The reproducing organisms are often able to enter the bloodstream and infect multiple organs such as the liver and heart valves.

Another source of inflammation of the bile ducts occurs in diseases of altered immunity, known as "autoimmune diseases." In these diseases, the body fails to recognize certain cells as part of its normal composition. The body thinks these cells are foreign and produces antibodies to fight them off, just as it fights against bacteria and viruses. Primary sclerosing cholangitis is a typical example of an autoimmune disease involving the bile ducts.




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