What Is Biliary Atresia?

Biliary atresia is a life-threatening condition that can affect a baby shortly after birth. This is when bile ducts, which are tubes that carry fluid from the liver to the small intestine, are blocked. The cause of biliary atresia is unknown.

Over time, this can progress into more health complications for the baby, eventually leading to the loss of liver tissues and conditions such as scarring of the liver, also known as cirrhosis.

Biliary Atresia Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of biliary atresia usually appear within the first few weeks after birth. The first symptom is jaundice, when a baby’s skin and eyes turn yellow. Other symptoms to look for include:

• Dark yellow or brown urine
• Gray or white stools
• Swollen belly

Kasai procedure
The preferred treatment for biliary atresia is the Kasai procedure, a surgical technique that can help relieve the blockage from the liver to the small intestine by joining the two directly. If performed before the baby is three months old, the Kasai procedure may be completely or partially successful in about 80 percent of cases.

Liver transplant
Unfortunately, the Kasai procedure might not always be successful. In these cases, babies with biliary atresia would need a liver transplant. During a liver transplant, the failing liver is removed and replaced with a donor’s healthy liver.

With almost 15,000 people on the liver transplant waiting list, and fewer than 5,000 livers available, the wait for a transplant can take months or years.

A solution to this problem is a living donor transplant. This is when a healthy adult donates a portion of his or her liver to the child, therefore reducing  time spent on the transplant waiting list. These transplants are possible because of the liver’s unique ability to regrow back to a normal size.

Living Donor
By becoming a living donor for a child with biliary atresia, you can help to reduce the transplant waiting list, and give a child a second chance at life.

To meet some of the children on the waiting list, and to learn more about becoming a living donor, visit UPMC.com/BeADonor.