Complications of primary biliary cirrhosis 

If primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) is not treated, it can lead to complications such as an increased chance of osteoporosis or liver cancer.


Damage to your liver caused by primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) can affect its ability to absorb vitamin D and calcium, both of which are needed to keep bones strong and healthy. This could lead to your bones becoming weak and brittle, a condition known as osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis affects around one-third of people with primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC). Compared with someone of the same age and sex, a person with PBC is more than four times more likely to develop osteoporosis than someone who does not have PBC. 

A dual energy X-ray scan, usually referred to as a DEXA scan, is a type of X-ray that measures the amount of calcium in your bones. This measurement is often referred to as bone mineral density (BMD). Your BMD may be tested every two to four years to see if you are at risk of developing osteoporosis.

If you are, your GP may prescribe vitamin D and calcium supplements to help maintain your bone strength. In some cases, you may also need more specific treatment, such as bisphosphonates. This is a medicine that slows the rate at which the cells break down bone (osteoclasts). This maintains bone density and reduces the risk of fracture.

Read more information about how osteoporosis is treated.


Osteoporosis can be prevented with regular exercise, particularly weight-bearing exercises (where your feet and legs support your weight). For example:

  • running
  • dancing
  • aerobics

Read more information about preventing osteoporosis.

Liver cancer

If you have PBC, the progressive damage to your liver slightly increases your risk of developing liver cancer. Due to this slightly increased risk, you may be referred for regular check-ups for liver cancer.

Page last reviewed: 07/11/2012

Next review due: 07/11/2014