Biliary atresia, a liver condition, develops shortly before or after birth, and it occurs when the biliary system is missing or closed. This prevents bile (a liquid comprised of bile salts, cholesterol, bilirubin, and waste products) from draining properly out of the liver and into the small intestine. The bile accumulates in the liver, and this causes scarring and other damage that could progress to cirrhosis. To diagnose biliary atresia, doctors perform a physical exam to check for potential signs of liver damage. Blood tests are necessary, and patients might also need to undergo an abdominal ultrasound, HIDA scan, or liver biopsy. The primary treatment method for biliary atresia is a surgical procedure known as the Kasai procedure. Surgeons re-establish proper bile flow by connecting the small intestine directly to the liver. This operation generally has the highest success rate if it is performed within the first two months of an infant’s life. While the procedure is successful in up to eighty percent of cases, it is not considered a cure for this condition, and some patients will need to have a liver transplant later in life.
The primary symptoms associated with biliary atresia are outlined below.
Jaundice refers to a yellow discoloration of the skin or eyes. This symptom generally occurs due to a buildup of bilirubin, a yellow-orange substance that is part of bile. In patients with biliary atresia, jaundice develops due to the absence or closure of the bile ducts and the resultant accumulation of bilirubin in the liver. While infant jaundice is fairly common and usually resolves, it typically persists in patients with biliary atresia for more than two weeks. Doctors check infants for jaundice by performing a visual inspection of the skin during a physical examination. They may gently move the patient’s eyelids to check whether jaundice is also present in the eyes. Doctors will continue to monitor a patient’s jaundice at regular intervals, and the symptom usually resolves with successful treatment for biliary atresia.
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