, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 371-381

Biliary atresia

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Biliary atresia (BA) is a condition unique to infancy. It results from inflammatory destruction of the intrahepatic and extrahepatic bile ducts. It is the most frequent surgically correctable liver disorder in infancy and the most frequent indication for liver transplantation in paediatric age. Clinical presentation is in the first few weeks of life with conjugated hyperbilirubinaemia (dark urine and pale stools); other manifestations of liver disease, such as failure to thrive, splenomegaly and ascites, appear only later, when surgery is unlikely to be successful. Hence, all infants with conjugated hyperbilirubinaemia must be urgently referred to specialised centres for appropriate treatment. Success of surgery depends on the age at which it is performed. With corrective surgery, followed, when necessary, by liver transplantation, the overall survival rate is approximately 90%. The cause of BA is unknown, but there is evidence for the involvement of infectious, genetic and immunologic mechanisms, which will be discussed in this review.