Pruritus in hepatic cholestasis has been suggested to be secondary to a high concentration of serum bile acids. Rifampicin, which inhibits the uptake of bile acids by hepatocytes, has been used to treat pruritus. To determine the efficacy of rifampicin as a treatment for refractory pruritus, the medical records of 33 children (median age 25 months, range 4-135; 19 boys) with chronic cholestasis liver disease (21 with Alagille's syndrome, eight with progressive intrahepatic cholestasis, one with extrahepatic biliary atresia, one with an inborn error of bile acid metabolism, and one with cryptogenic cirrhosis) were reviewed retrospectively. The median dose of rifampicin was 5(4-10) mg/kg/day. The median duration of intake was 36(4-120) weeks. Complete relief of pruritus was noted in five (15%) patients and a partial response in 12 (36%). Overall, no significant difference was noted in the laboratory parameters before and after treatment with rifampicin. In the 21 patients with Alagille's syndrome, however, a significant decrease in alkaline phosphatase was seen before and after one and six months of starting treatment. No adverse side effects were seen. Rifampicin appears to be effective in the treatment of refractory pruritus. A prospective study is warranted to assess further the effect of rifampicin treatment in children with hepatic cholestasis.
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