• antimitochondrial antibodies;
  • biliary;
  • cirrhosis;
  • symptomatic;
  • therapy


Background & Aims

In recent years, primary biliary cirrhosis is mostly diagnosed in patients who are asymptomatic; however, a proportion of cases still present with typical complaints such as fatigue and/or pruritus. We compared biochemical, histological and immunological features of patients with or without fatigue and/or pruritus at onset to see whether the different clinical presentation may eventually impact on disease progression.


We analysed the Bologna cohort of 216 patients with primary biliary cirrhosis referred to our Centre between 1997 and 2007, according to symptomatic (fatigue and/or pruritus) or asymptomatic presentation. Clinical, biochemical, histological and immunological feature at diagnosis, response to ursodeoxycholic acid and progression of the disorder were compared after a mean follow-up of 81 ± 75 months.


At diagnosis, symptomatic patients were significantly more often women (98.6% vs. 87.2%, P = 0.004), younger (mean age 49 ± 12 vs. 55 ± 12 years, P = 0.003) and with more pronounced biochemical activity, as indicated by higher alkaline phosphatase (mean 2.93 ± 2 vs. 2.12, P = 0.002) and aminotransferase (mean 1.92 ± 1 vs. 1.47 ± 1.27, P = 0.014) levels, whereas histological stage and autoantibody profile were similar. Symptomatic patients were less likely to respond to ursodeoxycholic acid therapy (63% vs. 81%, P = 0.006) and developed more often cirrhosis and its complications (31% vs. 13%, P = 0.004).


Fatigue and/or pruritus at onset identify a subset of patients with primary biliary cirrhosis who preferentially are women, younger, with a particularly active disease, less responsive to ursodeoxycholic acid treatment, and more inclined to evolve to cirrhosis and its complications.