Biliary Atresia | Frequently Asked Questions

My baby was born jaundiced. Should I be concerned?

Not necessarily – many babies have jaundice (yellow discoloration of the skin and whites of the eyes) in the first week or two of life. This is a different kind of jaundice from biliary atresia, and does not mean there is a liver problem. But if the jaundice goes away and then returns, or lasts longer than 2 weeks, that's often a sign that something is wrong, and you should talk to your child’s pediatrician.

Can biliary atresia be detected before birth?

No, there is no prenatal test that can detect biliary atresia.

If my child has biliary atresia, am I more likely to have another child with the condition?

No, researchers believe that biliary atresia isn’t genetic, and the condition doesn’t recur in families with any frequency. Even in identical twins, one infant may have biliary atresia and the other may not.

What’s the difference between bile and bilirubin?

Bile is a golden yellow fluid made by your child’s liver. It’s stored in the gallbladder and passed through the common bile duct into the intestine, where it helps digest fat. Bilirubin is a yellowish pigment that is found in bile. It is a chemical formed by breakdown of red blood cells.

What causes jaundice?

Jaundice occurs when there is too much bilirubin in your child’s blood (hyperbilirubinemia). Because bilirubin is yellow, it causes a yellowing of the baby's skin and tissues. Not all yellowing of the skin is jaundice, however. Some babies eat a lot of orange vegetables, such as carrots, and their skin may appear yellow or orange. In that case, the whites of the child’s eyes remain white, and blood tests show that the child’s bilirubin levels are normal.

Why would there be too much bilirubin in my child’s blood?

The problem starts as your child’s old red blood cells are broken down. As this occurs, hemoglobin (the protein molecule in red blood cells) is changed into bilirubin and, in a healthy system, is removed by the liver. If the liver can’t remove the bilirubin, it gets backed up in the blood.