Acute cholangitis

Dr Henry Knipe et al.

Acute cholangitis, or ascending cholangitis, is a form of cholangitis and refers to the acute bacterial infection of the biliary tree. It is a condition with high mortality and emergent biliary decompression is required. 

The classical presentation is Charcot triad of fever, right upper quadrant abdominal pain, and jaundice, which is seen in ~40%. Patients can also present with Reynold pentad, which is Charcot triad with shock and lethargy/confusion 1,3,4

Gram-negative enteric bacteria, most commonly Escherichia coli, are the primary pathogens 4

Acute cholangitis is seen in the setting of biliary tree obstruction 1,3:

Acute cholangitis is typically a clinical diagnosis with imaging to determine if there is evidence of 1,4:

  • intrahepatic and/or extrahepatic duct dilatation (indicating obstruction/stasis)
  • bile duct wall thickening or focal outpouchings
  • cholelithiasis/choledocholithiasis
Ultrasound

A hallmark finding of ascending cholangitis on ultrasound is thickening of the walls of the bile ducts in the appropriate clinical setting. Ultrasound may also show biliary dilatation with stones +/- pus - debris material within the common bile duct.

CT
  • inhomogeneous liver enhancement on arterial-phase CT (but this is non-specific and should be interpreted in the correct clinical context) 2,3

Treatment involves appropriate antibiotic therapy and biliary tree decompression (usually either via ERCP or PTC). Mortality rates are between 50-90% for severe acute cholangitis 5,6.

Complications
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Article Information

rID: 39066
Section: Pathology
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Ascending cholangitis
  • Bacterial acute cholangitis (BAC)
  • Obstructive cholangitis

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