Most infants with biliary atresia appear healthy right after birth. Symptoms do not usually develop until they’re between two weeks and two months old.
Jaundice is one of the first signs and usually becomes apparent between three to six weeks of age.
Jaundice arises from an excess of the orange-yellow pigment bilirubin, which is formed in the liver by the breakdown of hemoglobin. Bilirubin is normally excreted in bile but builds up in the bloodstream of someone with jaundice.
As bilirubin levels increase, it causes the infant’s skin to turn slightly yellow, along with the whites of their eyes.
Another symptom of biliary atresia is light or clay-colored stools.
In a healthy-functioning liver, bile travels through ducts to the intestine, where it gives bowel movements a yellow, green, or brown color. The absence of bile in their intestines means an infant’s stools will be much lighter and clay-colored.
These are known as “acholic” stools.
In addition to these two symptoms, other signs of biliary atresia include:
- Dark-colored urine
- Weight loss
- Distended abdomen
A distended abdomen is one that is abnormally swollen outward. The difference is visibly noticeable and measurable and can sometimes be felt.
Many of the initial signs of biliary atresia can mimic those of other health conditions and diseases. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to meet with your child’s doctor for an official diagnosis.