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Pediatric Biliary Atresia

  • Author: Steven M Schwarz, MD, FAAP, FACN, AGAF; Chief Editor: Carmen Cuffari, MD  more...
 
Updated: Jun 28, 2016
 

Background

Biliary atresia is characterized by obliteration or discontinuity of the extrahepatic biliary system, resulting in obstruction to bile flow.[1] The disorder represents the most common surgically treatable cause of cholestasis encountered during the newborn period. If not surgically corrected, secondary biliary cirrhosis invariably results. Patients with biliary atresia can be subdivided into 2 distinct groups: those with isolated biliary atresia (postnatal form), which accounts for 65-90% of cases, and patients with associated situs inversus or polysplenia/asplenia with or without other congenital anomalies (fetal/embryonic form), comprising 10-35% of cases.

See the image below.

Biliary atresia. Biliary atresia.

The pathology of the extrahepatic biliary system widely varies in these patients, and the following classification is based on the predominant site of atresia:

  • Type I involves obliteration of the common duct; the proximal ducts are patent
  • Type II is characterized by atresia of the hepatic duct, with cystic structures found in the porta hepatis
  • Type III (>90% of patients) involves atresia of the right and left hepatic ducts to the level of the porta hepatis. These variants should not be confused with intrahepatic biliary hypoplasia, which comprises a group of distinct and surgically noncorrectable disorders.
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Pathophysiology

Although histopathologic features of biliary atresia have been extensively studied in surgical specimens from excised extrahepatic biliary systems of infants undergoing portoenterostomy, the pathogenesis of this disorder remains poorly understood. Early studies postulated a congenital malformation of the biliary ductular system. Problems of hepatobiliary ontogenesis are suggested by the fetal/embryonic form of atresia that is associated with other congenital anomalies. However, the more common neonatal type is characterized by a progressive inflammatory lesion, which suggests a role for infectious and/or toxic agents causing bile duct obliteration.

In type III, the most prevalent histopathological variant, the fibrous remnant demonstrates complete obliteration of at least a portion of the extrahepatic biliary system. Ducts within the liver, extending to the porta hepatis, are initially patent during the first few weeks of life but may progressively be destroyed. The same agent or agents that damaged the extrahepatic ducts may be causative, and the effects of retained toxins in bile are contributing factors.

Identification of active and progressive inflammation and destruction of the biliary system suggests that extrahepatic biliary atresia likely represents an acquired lesion. However, no single etiologic factor has been identified. Infectious agents seem to be the most plausible candidates, particularly in the isolated (neonatal) form of atresia. Several studies have identified elevated antibody titers to reovirus type 3 in patients with biliary atresia when compared with controls. Other viruses, including rotavirus and cytomegalovirus (CMV), have also been implicated.

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Epidemiology

Frequency

United States

Individual studies suggest an overall incidence in the United States of 1 per 10,000-15,000 live births.

International

The incidence of biliary atresia is highest in Asian populations, and it may be more common in Chinese infants compared with Japanese infants.

Mortality/Morbidity

Prior to the development of liver transplantation as a therapeutic option for children with end-stage liver disease, the long-term survival rate for infants with biliary atresia following portoenterostomy was 47-60% at 5 years and 25-35% at 10 years. In one third of all patients, bile flow is inadequate following surgery, and these children succumb to complications of biliary cirrhosis in the first few years of life unless liver transplantation is performed. Following portoenterostomy, complications include cholangitis (50%) and portal hypertension (>60%).

Hepatocellular carcinoma may be a risk for patients with cirrhosis and no clinical evidence of portal hypertension. Progressive fibrosis and biliary cirrhosis develop in children who do not drain bile. Thus, as discussed below (see Prognosis), liver transplantation may be the only option for long-term survival in most patients.[2]

Race

Incidence of biliary atresia is highest in Asian populations. The disorder also occurs in black infants, with an incidence approximately 2 times higher than that observed among white infants.

Sex

Extrahepatic biliary atresia is more common in females than in males.

Age

Biliary atresia is a disorder unique to the neonatal period. Two presentations are described in this chapter (see Background). The fetal/perinatal form is evident within the first 2 weeks of life; the postnatal type presents in infants aged 2-8 weeks.

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Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Steven M Schwarz, MD, FAAP, FACN, AGAF Professor of Pediatrics, Children's Hospital at Downstate, State University of New York Downstate Medical Center

Steven M Schwarz, MD, FAAP, FACN, AGAF is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Nutrition, American Association for Physician Leadership, New York Academy of Medicine, Gastroenterology Research Group, American Gastroenterological Association, American Pediatric Society, North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Stefano Guandalini, MD Founder and Medical Director, Celiac Disease Center, Chief, Section of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, Department of Pediatrics, University of Chicago Medical Center; Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Section of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, University of Chicago Division of the Biological Sciences, The Pritzker School of Medicine

Stefano Guandalini, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Gastroenterological Association, North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition, North American Society for the Study of Celiac Disease

Disclosure: Received consulting fee from AbbVie for consulting.

Chief Editor

Carmen Cuffari, MD Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Gastroenterology/Nutrition, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Carmen Cuffari, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Gastroenterology, American Gastroenterological Association, North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada

Disclosure: Received honoraria from Prometheus Laboratories for speaking and teaching; Received honoraria from Abbott Nutritionals for speaking and teaching.

Additional Contributors

Jorge H Vargas, MD Professor of Pediatrics and Clinical Professor of Pediatric Gastroenterology, University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine; Consulting Physician, Department of Pediatrics, University of California at Los Angeles Health System

Jorge H Vargas, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Liver Foundation, Latin American Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Biliary atresia.
Bile ductular proliferation in liver biopsy specimen (hematoxylin and eosin stain) from patient with biliary atresia. Also note hepatocellular bile staining as a consequence of cholestasis.
 
 
 
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