Ursodeoxycholic acid

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Take this medicine with or immediately after food.

Try to avoid eating foods that are high in calories or cholesterol.

Do not take antacid preparations at the same time as this medicine. Some indigestion remedies stop ursodeoxycholic acid from working properly.

Type of medicineA bile acid
Used forDissolving gallstones
A type of liver disease known as primary biliary cirrhosis
Also calledDestolit®; Ursofalk®; Ursogal®
Available asCapsules, tablets, and liquid medicine

Gallstones cause problems such as pain, jaundice (yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes), pancreatitis (inflammation of your pancreas), and gallbladder inflammation. They occur when bile, which is normally fluid, forms stones. Gallstones commonly contain lumps of cholesterol-like (fatty) material that has solidified and hardened. They may also contain bile pigments and calcium deposits. These stones can block the bile duct, causing pain.

Surgery is the usual treatment for gallstones that are causing symptoms, but treatment with ursodeoxycholic acid may dissolve smaller stones which are made mainly of cholesterol. It works by reducing the amount of cholesterol released by your liver into bile and by slowly dispersing the cholesterol. This breaks up the stones.

Some ursodeoxycholic acid preparations can also help to treat primary biliary cirrhosis. This is a condition that slowly damages the bile ducts in the liver, and as the disease progresses, it can damage the liver.

Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine may only be used if extra care is taken. For these reasons, before you start taking ursodeoxycholic acid it is important that your doctor or pharmacist knows:

  • If you have problems with the way your liver works.
  • If you have a problem with your gallbladder other than gallstones.
  • If you have a condition which affects your intestines (such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis), or if you have had surgery on your bowel.
  • If you are pregnant, trying for a baby or breast-feeding.
  • If you are taking other medicines, including those available to buy without a prescription, herbal or complementary medicines. In particular, let your doctor know if you are taking the oral contraceptive pill or hormone replacement therapy.
  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine.
  • Before you start this treatment, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside your pack. The leaflet will give you more information about the specific brand of ursodeoxycholic acid you have been given, and a full list of side-effects which you may experience from taking it.
  • Take ursodeoxycholic acid exactly as your doctor tells you to. How much you need to take will depend upon what you are being treated for. Your doctor will tell you exactly how much to take and when, and the dosage directions will be on the label of the pack to remind you. To dissolve gallstones, it is usually taken once daily at bedtime. Sometimes your doctor may suggest you take two doses each day, in which case, take your last dose of the day at bedtime. If you are taking ursodeoxycholic acid for primary biliary cirrhosis, it is likely that you will be asked to take 2-4 doses daily.
  • Try to take ursodeoxycholic acid at the same times each day as this will help you to remember to take it. Take each of your doses with a snack or just after eating a meal.
  • If you are taking ursodeoxycholic acid liquid medicine, make sure you shake the bottle well before you pour out a dose.
  • If you forget to take a dose, take one as soon as you remember unless it is nearly time for your next dose, in which case skip the missed dose. Do not take two doses at the same time to make up.
  • Try to keep your regular appointments with your doctor. This is so your doctor can check on your progress.You will need to have blood tests, scans or X-rays from time to time.
  • It is important that you follow any dietary advice that you have been given by your doctor. Try to avoid foods that are high in calories or cholesterol.
  • You may need to take ursodeoxycholic acid for up to two years for the treatment of gallstones. Once the gallstones have dissolved, your doctor may continue your treatment for three to four months to ensure that they have completely cleared up. Treatment for primary biliary cirrhosis is usually long-term unless you experience an adverse effect.
  • If you buy any medicines, check with a pharmacist that they are suitable to take with this medicine. This is particularly important if you are buying indigestion remedies. Some antacid preparations contain aluminium salts which can interfere with the way ursodeoxycholic acid works.
  • If you are using oral combined hormonal contraception (the 'pill'), please ask your doctor for advice. A method of contraception that contains less oestrogen may be more suitable for you.

Along with their useful effects, most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. These usually improve as your body adjusts to the new medicine, but speak with your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following side-effects continue or become troublesome.

Common ursodeoxycholic acid side-effects - these affect less than 1 in 10 people who take this medicine
What can I do if I experience this?
DiarrhoeaDrink plenty of water to replace lost fluids. If this becomes troublesome, speak with your doctor
Other possible but less common side-effectsWhat can I do if I experience this?
Itchy skin rash, feeling sickIf either of these becomes troublesome, speak with your doctor

If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to this medicine, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.

  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
  • Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.

Never take more than the prescribed dose. If you suspect that you or someone else might have taken an overdose of this medicine, go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital at once. Take the container with you, even if it is empty.

If you are having an operation or dental treatment, tell the person carrying out the treatment which medicines you are taking.

This medicine is for you. Never give it to other people even if their condition appears to be the same as yours.

Do not keep out-of-date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.

If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.

Further reading & references

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Helen Allen
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Adrian Bonsall
Document ID:
3818 (v23)
Last Checked:
Next Review:
The Information Standard - certified member

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