Cholangitis: Care Instructions

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Picture of the gallbladder, common bile duct, and cystic duct


Cholangitis (say "koh-lan-JY-tus") is an infection in the tubes that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder and the small intestine. The gallbladder stores bile, which helps the body digest food. Sometimes a gallstone gets stuck in the tubes, and bile cannot get out. This can lead to an infection. If the infection is not treated, it may damage your liver or spread through your blood vessels. Other medical problems also can cause a blockage of the bile tubes and lead to cholangitis.

You will take antibiotics to treat the infection. You may also need a special test to look for and remove a gallstone stuck in the bile tubes. You may also have a tube put in the gallbladder to drain the bile. When the infection is gone, you may need surgery to take out your gallbladder. This will prevent more gallstones and another infection.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take your antibiotics as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • If you have a drain, take care of it as you have been instructed.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have severe belly pain.
  • You have a fever not caused by the flu or some other illness that you know you have.
  • You are vomiting or feel sick to your stomach.
  • You are confused, or your confusion gets worse.
  • Your skin or the whites of your eyes turn yellow or get more yellow.
  • Your urine is dark yellow-brown, or your stools are light-colored.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.