1Liver Unit, Department of Gastroenterology, Manchester Royal Infirmary.
2Centre of Biostatistics, School of Health Sciences, Manchester Academic Health Science Centre, University of Manchester.
3Department of Radiology.
4Department of Medical Physics, Manchester Royal Infirmary.
5Department of Histopathology, Spire Health Care Trust.
6Department of Histopathology, Manchester Royal Infirmary, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester, UK.
Objectives: The histopathological mechanisms underlying portal hypertension in primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) are poorly understood, as is its natural history. We have therefore determined the prevalence, severity and progression of portal hypertension in PBC and investigated whether its presence is related to specific histological lesions.
Methods: Hepatic venous pressure gradient (HVPG) was measured in 86 patients, with 186 assessments over up to 7 years of follow-up and the results correlated with a semiquantitative grading of 8 histological features and nodular regenerative hyperplasia (NRH).
Results: Portal hypertension (HVPG >5 mmHg) was present in 88% of all assessments (86% at baseline), and in 45% of patients at baseline was >12 mmHg (high-risk portal hypertension). The rise in portal pressure occurs early in the disease, since 45% of patients with normal serum bilirubin had a raised HVPG, as did 72% of patients with early (Ludwig stages 1 and 2) disease. After baseline, there was a small increase in HVPG over the next 5 years in most patients. In patients with precirrhotic PBC, 82% had portal hypertension and in 34% this was >12 mmHg. Portal pressure correlated significantly with a semiquantitative grading of cholestasis, interface hepatitis and portal tract and sinusoidal fibrosis. NRH was present in only 20% of wedge biopsies.
Conclusions: Portal hypertension commences in the early stages of PBC, long preceding both rises in serum bilirubin and the development of cirrhosis. Around 34% of precirrhotic PBC patients have 'high-risk' portal hypertension, which is associated with lesions in the portal tracts and sinusoids rather than with NRH.