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Bile produced in the liver
Bile produced in the liver


Definition:

Biliary atresia is a blockage in the tubes (ducts) that carry a liquid called bile from the liver to the gallbladder. The condition is congenital, which means it is present from birth.



Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

Biliary atresia occurs when the bile ducts inside or outside the liver do not develop normally. It is not known why the biliary system fails to develop normally.

The bile ducts help remove waste from the liver and carry salts that help the small intestine break down (digest) fat.

In babies with biliary atresia, bile flow from the liver to the gallbladder is blocked. This can lead to liver damage and cirrhosis of the liver, which is deadly if not treated.



Symptoms:

Newborns with this condition may appear normal at birth. However, jaundice (a yellow color to the skin and mucous membranes) develops by the second or third week of life. The infant may gain weight normally for the first month, but then will lose weight and become irritable, and have worsening jaundice.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Dark urine
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Floating stools
  • Foul-smelling stools
  • Pale or clay-colored stools
  • Slow or no weight gain
  • Slow growth


Signs and tests:

The health care provider will perform a physical exam, which includes feeling the patients belly area. The doctor may feel an enlarged liver.

Tests to diagnose biliary atresia include:

  • Abdominal x-ray
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Blood tests to check total and direct bilirubin levels
  • Hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid (HIDA) scan, also called cholescintigraphy, to help determine if the bile ducts and gallbladder are working properly
  • Liver biopsy to determine severity of cirrhosis or to rule out other causes of jaundice
  • X-ray of the bile ducts (cholangiogram)


Treatment:

An operation called the Kasai procedure is done to connect the liver to the small intestine, going around the abnormal ducts. It is most successful if done before the baby is 8 weeks old. However, a liver transplant may still be needed.



Support Groups:



Expectations (prognosis):

Early surgery will improve the survival of more than a third of babies with this condition. The long-term benefit of liver transplant is not yet known, but is expected to improve survival.



Complications:
  • Infection
  • Irreversible cirrhosis
  • Liver failure
  • Surgical complications, including failure of the Kasai procedure


Calling your health care provider:

Call your health care provider if your child appears jaundiced, or if other symptoms of biliary atresia develop.



Prevention:




Review Date: 10/8/2007
Reviewed By: Deirdre O’Reilly, MD, MPH, Neonatologist, Division of Newborn Medicine, Children’s Hospital Boston and Instructor in Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts. Review Provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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789 Central Avenue, Dover, NH 03820
Phone: (603) 742-5252
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