Biliary Atresia: Symptoms, Treatment


Biliary atresia is a rare condition only in infants. It happens when the bile ducts are scarred and blocked. With this condition, bile can’t flow into the intestine as normal, causing it to build up in the liver and damage it. Over time, this may lead to scarring, loss of liver tissue and function, and cirrhosis.

In most cases, symptoms occur between 2 and 4 weeks after birth though some babies may get it in the womb.

Biliary atresia can be life-threatening, but most babies survive to their adulthood with effective treatment.

In the United States, this condition affects about 1 out of every 12,000 infants.


Biliary atresia can be divided into two types:

  • Biliary atresia without birth defects

According to a recent study, 84 percent of infants with biliary atresia have no other major birth defects. This type is also called biliary atresia perinatal or isolated biliary atresia.

  • Biliary atresia with birth defects

Some infants suffering from biliary atresia have major birth defects such as problems with their heart, spleen, or intestines. Doctors may call this condition fetal or embryonic biliary atresia.


Infants with biliary atresia may grow as normal at the beginning. However, they may have jaundice by the second or third week of life. They may also begin to lose weight and become irritable.

Other possible symptoms may involve:

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


The exact cause of biliary atresia is still unknown. The following factors that may contribute to biliary atresia are being studied:

  • Infections with certain viruses
  • Coming into contact with harmful chemicals
  • Problems with the immune system
  • A problem that affects liver and bile duct development in the womb
  • Certain genes or changes in genes


Doctors will perform a physical exam to feel for an enlarged liver. In addition to this, doctors may also order other tests such as:

  • Abdominal x-ray
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Blood tests: to check bilirubin levels
  • Hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid (HIDA) scan
  • Liver biopsy
  • X-ray of the bile ducts


The most common treatment for biliary atresia is an operation called the Kasai procedure which is done if the blocked bile ducts are outside the baby’s liver. This procedure will replace the blocked bile ducts with part of the intestine, letting bile drain from the liver through this new “duct” and into the intestine. Within three months after the birth, the success rate of the Kasai procedure is 80%. If it fails, a liver transplant within 1 to 2 years is usually needed.

If the blocked bile ducts are inside the liver, the doctor may prescribe medications that help get rid of bile as well as vitamin A, D, and E supplements. A liver transplant may be done when necessary.

Keyword: biliary atresia.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.