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What is Ursodiol®?

By H. Lo
Updated May 17, 2024
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Ursodiol®, also called ursodeoxycholic acid or UDCA, is a bile acid that is naturally produced in the human body. As an oral medication, it is also known under the brand names Actigall or Urso. Ursodiol® is prescribed to dissolve or remove cholesterol gallstones as well as prevent them from forming in those who are rapidly losing weight. It is also used for the treatment of primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC), a liver disease.

Gallstones usually form inside the gallbladder and vary in type and size. If a person with gallstones has no symptoms, he or she might not require treatment. Those who do have symptoms generally undergo surgery, but smaller-sized cholesterol gallstones can be treated with Ursodiol® if surgery is not an option. Ursodiol® works by reducing cholesterol in bile, enabling the bile to properly combat cholesterol in gallstones.

Use of the medication requires a person to have patience, as it will take months to begin producing a result and can take up to two years to fully dissolve gallstones. Although successful treatment will get rid of the gallstones, it does not guarantee that they will not recur within five years. In fact, about 50 percent of those who have success with Ursodiol® will see gallstones return within this time frame.

In PBC, bile ducts within the liver are inflamed or destroyed. Since bile is necessary for the proper digestion and removal of substances inside the liver such as fats and cholesterol, the destruction of bile ducts can cause buildup to occur. Though there is no cure for PBC, medical treatment can be used to slow it down. In PBC, Ursodiol® is usually the first method of treatment. The medication works by assisting in bile flow.

Ursodiol® is taken orally in the form of capsules. The dosage depends on a person’s medical condition and its severity. A person who is prescribed the medication should follow his or her doctor’s directions and should not alter the dosage without consultation. Existing conditions such as liver or gallbladder diseases should be disclosed before treatment. In addition, patients should mention allergies and other prescription medications they take.

Side effects of Ursodiol® include diarrhea, upset stomach, dizziness, and hair loss. Many people who take the medication do not suffer serious side effects, but if infection, serious allergic reactions, and painful or increased urination occur, they should see a doctor immediately. Other serious symptoms include increased thirst, weakness and swelling of the ankles and feet.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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