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Actigall is a bile acid that can help to dissolve cholesterol gallstones.
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Bile -- a fluid the liver produces to help the body digest fats -- can form pebble-like deposits called gallstones. While many gallstones cause no symptoms, those that block bile flow can result in episodes of abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Surgery is generally the preferred treatment for gallstones that cause symptoms, except for those who cannot tolerate surgery. For those people as well as those who refuse surgery, drugs such as Actigall may be effective for dissolving gallstones.
Ursodeoxycholic acid, also called ursodiol and sold under the brand name Actigall, is a bile acid. Actigall helps dissolve small cholesterol gallstones by reducing the amount of cholesterol produced in the liver, limiting intestinal cholesterol absorption and breaking down the stones themselves. The drug is also sometimes used as a preventive measure in people undergoing rapid weight loss after gastric bypass surgery, a risk factor for gallstone formation. Treating cholesterol gallstones with Actigall can take many months and may not be completely effective. Even if the gallstones fully dissolve, new stones may form after you stop taking the medication.
Actigall comes in 300 mg capsules to be taken by mouth. The usual dose is 8 to 10 mg/kg daily, divided into 2 or 3 doses. Typically, your health care provider will order an ultrasound of your gallbladder every 6 months during treatment to check how well the drug is working. If the ultrasound shows no gallstones, your doctor will typically advise you to stop taking Actigall. If the gallstones have not dissolved even partially after 12 months of taking the medication, it is unlikely it will ever be effective.
Some unusual side effects of Actigall require immediate medical attention. These side effects include difficulty breathing, hives, or swelling in the face, tongue, throat or lips. Call your doctor right away if you are urinating frequently, have pain when you urinate or have a cough along with a fever.
More common and less serious side effects include diarrhea, abdominal pain, constipation, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, back pain, headache, runny or stuffy nose, chills, body aches, hair loss, fever and chills.
Considerations and Precautions
Actigall is not effective for the treatment of pigment gallstones or calcified cholesterol gallstones. People with gallstone-related inflammatory conditions, such as pancreatitis, are not treated with Actigall.
Avoid taking antacids containing aluminum, such as Maalox, Rolaids and Mylanta, while you're taking Actigall. These medications can reduce the effectiveness of Actigall.
Tell your health care provider if you are pregnant as the drug is not recommended for use by pregnant women. It is unknown if Actigall is excreted in breast milk, so discuss using the drug with your doctor if you're breast feeding.