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Primary biliary cirrhosis

Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) often doesn't cause any symptoms in the early stages.

Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) often doesn't cause any symptoms in the early stages and many people are only diagnosed with the condition during tests carried out for another reason.

People who do have symptoms may experience:

  • fatigue (extreme tiredness) – this is the most common symptom, and can have a significant impact on your daily activities
  • itchy skin – this can be widespread or it can only affect a single area; it may be worse at night, when in contact with fabrics, when warm, or during pregnancy
  • dry eyes and mouth
  • problems sleeping at night and feeling very sleepy during the day
  • pain or discomfort in the upper right corner of the tummy
  • dizziness when standing up (postural or orthostatic hypotension)

Some people may also have symptoms of conditions that often occur alongside PBC, such as an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).

Read about the causes of PBC for more information about related conditions.

For unknown reasons, there is often little association between the severity of symptoms and the degree of underlying liver damage. Some people with PBC have severe symptoms even though tests show that their liver is not severely damaged, while tests may reveal that others with no or mild symptoms may have significant liver damage.

Advanced PBC

Medication can usually help to delay liver damage in people with PBC, but if the liver does become extensively damaged (cirrhosis), you may have additional symptoms.

These can include:

  • jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • a build-up of fluid in the legs, ankles and feet (oedema)
  • build-up of fluid in your tummy that can make you look heavily pregnant (ascites) 
  • the formation of small fatty deposits on the skin, usually around your eyes (xanthelasmata)
  • dark urine and pale stools
  • a tendency to bleed and bruise more easily
  • problems with memory and concentration

Read more about the symptoms of cirrhosis.

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