Current Treatment Options in Gastroenterology

, Volume 7, Issue 6, pp 501–508 | Cite as

Treatment of the pruritus of cholestasis

  • Nora V. Bergasa

Opinion statement

The etiology of the pruritus of cholestasis is unknown. It is inferred that the pruritogen( s) is produced in the liver, excreted in bile, and as a result of cholestasis it accumulates in plasma. It may follow, logically, that the removal of the substance(s) that mediate pruritus leads to its resolution. The problem with this approach, however, is that the substance(s) is unknown; thus, it is not possible to reduce its serum levels specifically. Oral cholestyramine, a resin that is not absorbed, is associated with increased fecal excretion of certain substances, including cholesterol and bile acids. Many patients respond to treatment with cholestyramine with a relief of pruritus, which unfortunately may be temporary, but is well tolerated in general and it seems reasonable to prescribe it as an initial therapy. When pruritus is not relieved by resins, the use of opiate antagonists (eg, naloxone and naltrexone) is supported by data from controlled clinical trials. Butorphanol is an agonist at the kappa opioid receptor and an antagonist at the mu opioid receptor with minimal or absent abuse potential. The use of butorphanol spray in selective patients may be a therapeutic alternative. In uncontrolled observations dronabinol, an agonist at the cannabinoid B1 receptor, and sertraline, a serotonin reuptake inhibitor, have been reported to be associated with the relief of pruritus. The cannabinoidergic and serotoninergic systems participate in the mediation of nociception; therefore, there appears to be a rationale for the use of these drugs to treat pruritus. Data from controlled clinical trials on the use of dronabinol and sertraline, however, are not available at present.


Opioid Receptor Primary Biliary Cirrhosis Cholestasis Naltrexone Main Side Effect 
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Copyright information

© Current Science Inc 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nora V. Bergasa
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of HepatologyState University of New York, Downstate Medical CenterBrooklynUSA

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