Biliary Atresia | Symptoms and Causes

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What are the symptoms of biliary atresia?

Infants with biliary atresia may be born with jaundice, but usually appear healthy at birth. Most often, you or your child’s pediatrician will notice signs within the first two weeks to two months of your child’s life. These may include:

  • jaundice
  • dark urine
  • light-colored stools

Signs that may appear later include:

  • distended (swollen) abdomen
  • weight loss

These are later signs, not usually in the first months of life.

What causes biliary atresia? 

We know that biliary atresia is caused by inflammation and scarring of the bile ducts, but what causes the inflammation and scarring is still unknown.

Biliary atresia does not seem to be linked to anything the mother did during pregnancy, such as any medications she might have taken.

There are two types of biliary atresia:

embryonal biliary atresia

  • probably present at birth
  • signs and symptoms appear earlier
  • often associated with other malformations, including intestinal malrotation (the intestine is not twisted in the usual position within the abdomen), polysplenia (multiple spleens), abnormal veins, congenital heart defects

perinatal biliary atresia

  • 85 percent of biliary atresia cases are thought to develop after birth, within the first weeks of life.
  • Some researchers believe this type may be caused by exposure to infections or toxic substances.
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