Pruritus is common and undertreated in patients with primary biliary cholangitis in the United Kingdom


Background and aims: Little is known about the prevalence or treatment of pruritus associated with primary biliary cholangitis (PBC). We analyzed data from patients with PBC recruited from all clinical centers in the United Kingdom (UK) to characterize the prevalence, severity, progression, and treatment of pruritus.

Methods: We performed cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of patients in the UK-PBC cohort to assess trajectories of pruritus. Data on pruritus frequency, severity, and therapy were collected via paper questionnaires completed by 2194 patients at their initial assessment in 2011 and then again in 2014 and 2017. Self-reported treatment data were validated against the prescription record of PBC cohort in the Clinical Practice Research Datalink, a primary care database. We defined persistent pruritus as itch that occurs frequently or all the time and severe pruritus as PBC-40 pruritus domain scores of 12 or more, throughout their disease course. Latent class mixed models were used to study pruritus trajectories and identify factors associated with high pruritus.

Results: At initial assessment, 1613 (73.5%) patients had experienced pruritus at some point since their development of PBC-persistent pruritus was reported by 34.5% of the patients and severe pruritus by 11.7%. Only 37.4% of patients with persistent pruritus and 50% with severe pruritus reported ever receiving cholestyramine. Frequencies of rifampicin use were 11% in patients with persistent pruritus and 23% in patients with severe pruritus. Comparison of 2011 and 2014 surveys (comprising 1423 patients) showed consistent self-reported data on pruritus. Proportions of patients in the UK-PBC cohort treated with cholestyramine or naltrexone (37.4% and 4.4%) did not differ significantly from proportions treated in the Clinical Practice Research Datalink cohort (30.4% and 4.4%) (P = .07 for cholestyramine and P = .32 for naltrexone). Latent class mixed models (n = 1753) identified 3 different groups of pruritus. Multivariable analysis identified younger age at diagnosis and higher level of alkaline phosphatase at 12 months after diagnosis as factors significantly associated with persistent high pruritus.

Conclusions: In a large national cohort study of patients with PBC, we found a high prevalence of pruritus and inadequate guideline-recommended therapy. Patient-reported data used to determine pruritus prevalence and treatment are reliable. Younger age and levels of higher alkaline phosphatase were associated with persistent pruritus. We need to increase awareness and management of pruritus in PBC in the UK.

Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2019; 17(7):1379-1387.e3