A person stands on a bubble looking up at other bubbles containing symbols of symptoms of primary biliary cholangitis (PBC), which include dry eye, fatigue, itchiness, and liver issues.

Living With Primary Biliary Cholangitis

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2024

Primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) is a lifelong condition that causes inflammation in the bile ducts in the liver. Over time, this can cause serious liver damage, called cirrhosis. Living with a chronic condition like PBC can be challenging. But with proper support and treatment, you can manage PBC.1,2

Managing primary biliary cholangitis symptoms

Some people may find the symptoms of PBC difficult or uncomfortable. Symptoms can include:1,2

  • Itchy skin
  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Dry mouth or eyes

Not all treatments for PBC treat the symptoms directly, so you may need additional treatments to help manage your symptoms. Treatment for PBC symptoms may include:1-3

  • Antihistamines, cholestyramine, rifampin, opioid antagonists, or sertraline to help treat itching. Ultraviolet light therapy also can help relieve itching.
  • Artificial tears to treat dry eyes
  • Saliva substitutes, chewing gum, or hard candy to treat dry mouth
  • Stimulants for fatigue in some cases

Mental health with PBC

Living with a chronic condition can have a big impact on your mental health. PBC symptoms like itching and fatigue can make you feel frustrated. Other signs that PBC is causing stress and affecting your mental health can include:1-4

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  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Feeling anxious, irritable, or stressed
  • Not doing things you enjoy or spending time with people

If PBC is impacting your mental health, talk with your doctor. They can recommend ways to manage your physical, mental, and emotional stress, such as:1-4

  • Joining support groups for people with PBC, either online or in person
  • Gentle exercise or meditation
  • Learning about your condition, which can help you understand your care and advocate for yourself
  • Staying in contact with your friends and family, and asking for help when you need it
  • Avoiding harmful coping strategies like alcohol
  • Family or personal counseling
  • Taking medicine to treat anxiety or depression

Lifestyle changes for PBC

Developing healthy lifestyle habits may help control PBC symptoms and help prevent disease progression. Some healthy habits may also help you feel better overall, both physically and emotionally. Try these healthy habits:1-4

  • Eat whole foods and avoid processed or packaged foods.
  • Reduce how much fat you eat. Avoid saturated fats and opt for healthy unsaturated fats.
  • Avoid eating raw shellfish, like oysters, which carry bacteria that can cause infections. This can be dangerous for people with liver disease.
  • Keep time in your schedule to relax and rest.
  • Cut out smoking and alcohol.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Try to get gentle exercise each day, such as a fast walk. Exercising with light weights may help strengthen bones. This helps prevent bone weakness that can be caused by PBC.

Living with a chronic condition is difficult, and it may take time to adjust to life with PBC. But it may be possible to maintain your quality of life. Talk with your doctor about strategies for living with PBC. Consider making a list of questions before your appointment or bringing a friend or family member along for support.1-4

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