Medical Definition of Biliary atresia

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Biliary atresia: Congenital absence or closure of the major bile ducts, the ducts that drain bile from the liver.

Biliary atresia results in a progressive inflammatory process which may lead to cirrhosis of the liver. The infant looks normal at birth but develops jaundice after the age of 2 to 3 weeks with yellowing of the eyes and skin, light-colored stools and dark urine caused by the build up of the pigment called bilirubin in the blood. The abdomen may be swollen with a firm, enlarged liver. Weight loss and irritability develop as the jaundice increases.

There is one case of biliary atresia out of every 15,000 live births. Females are affected slightly more often than males.

The preferred treatment is to attach the small intestine directly to the liver at the spot where bile is found or expected to drain. Bile flow is re-established in approximately 80% of infants who are operated before 3 months of age. Of these, about 50% will have some bile drainage and as many as 30% will have complete bile drainage. About 20% of infants will not be helped by the procedure. In these cases, the only option is a liver transplant.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/25/2017

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