Conditions + Treatments

Biliary Atresia

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Contact the Center for Childhood Liver Disease

  • 1-617-355-5837
  • International: +01-617-355-5209

What is biliary atresia?

Bile is an important fluid produced by your child’s liver and stored in the gallbladder. In a healthy system, it flows through a tube called the common bile duct to the small intestine, where it helps to digest food.

If your child has biliary atresia, the common bile duct is blocked or damaged, so that it’s impossible for bile to flow through it, just as it’s hard for water to pass through a clogged pipe. This is called “cholestasis,” or poor bile flow, and quickly leads to malnutrition and liver damage.

Biliary atresia is a chronic, progressive liver problem, and fatal if left untreated. This condition:

  • is the most common cause of chronic liver disease in newborns
  • occurs once in every 30,000 births
  • is the most common reason for liver transplants in children
  • affects children of all races and ethnicities, but may be more common in Asians

Why is biliary atresia a concern?

There are two main reasons why biliary atresia is a problem. First, it makes it harder for bile to get to your child’s small intestines. Without enough bile in the small intestines, it’s more difficult for your child’s body to digest fat and harder for the body to get rid of certain toxins that need bile to help them exit the body.

Second, biliary atresia causes liver damage. As the biliary atresia progresses, inflammation and scarring damage the liver more and more, eventually resulting in cirrhosis of the liver. If bile can’t leave the liver, it accumulates. This can result in a buildup of toxins that causes even more liver damage and raises your child’s cholesterol level.

How we care for biliary atresia

At Boston Children’s Hospital, biliary atresia is treated by a small number of doctors with specific expertise within the large, multidisciplinary Divisions of  Gastroenterology and  Pediatric Surgery. We’re known for our individualized and science-driven approach. We’re home to the most extensive research enterprise located in a pediatric hospital in the world, and we partner with a number of top biotech and health care organizations—but our physicians never forget that your child is a child, and not just a patient.

Boston Children’s is also home to New England’s largest pediatric Liver Transplant Program. If your child has biliary atresia, our team will work with you from the beginning to identify the best treatment options for each stage of his or her condition.

Boston Children’s is so much more than a hospital—it’s a community of researchers, clinicians, administrators, support staff, innovators, teachers, patients and families, all working together to make the impossible possible. ”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

Boston Children's Hospital
300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115
For Patients: 617-355-6000
For Referring Providers: 844-BCH-PEDS | 844-224-7337