Absent gallbladder on fetal ultrasound: prenatal findings and postnatal outcome

Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2011 Jun;37(6):673-7. doi: 10.1002/uog.8861. Epub 2011 May 9.


Objectives: Fetal gallbladder non-visualization on prenatal ultrasound in the second trimester is uncommon and in most cases the gallbladder is detected eventually. Associations of gallbladder non-visualization with cystic fibrosis, aneuploidy, agenesis of the gallbladder and biliary atresia have been reported. We present our experience and review the literature.

Methods: During the study period from January 2004 to June 2009 we collected prospectively cases of non-visualization of the fetal gallbladder in the second trimester. In each case the fetus was evaluated by two examiners on at least two occasions, at least a week apart. Cases with no additional sonographic malformations were designated as isolated. Further evaluation included follow-up scans and a meticulous search for fetal anomalies. All patients were offered genetic consultation. Cystic fibrosis testing, amniocentesis for karyotyping and analysis of fetal digestive enzymes in the amniotic fluid were offered.

Results: We collected 21 cases of non-visualization of the fetal gallbladder, 16 of which were isolated and five of which had additional malformations. In four of these five, the associated anomalies were severe and the pregnancies were terminated for aneuploidy (two cases of trisomy 18 and one triploidy) or for the severity of the associated anomalies. Associated anomalies included left isomerism with complex cardiac anomaly and intrauterine growth restriction with multisystem anomalies. The fifth fetus had interrupted inferior vena cava with azygos continuation without other anomalies and the child was alive and well at the age of 4 years. In 15 of the 16 isolated cases, antenatal and postnatal development were normal at the last follow-up, ranging from 4 months to 2.5 years. One case of cystic fibrosis was diagnosed prenatally and this pregnancy was terminated. There were no diagnoses of abnormal karyotype or biliary atresia among cases of isolated non-visualization of the gallbladder.

Conclusions: When prenatal non-visualization of the fetal gallbladder is associated with other severe malformation, aneuploidy should be suspected. When it is isolated, if cystic fibrosis is ruled out, the outcome is good.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amniocentesis
  • Cystic Fibrosis / blood
  • Cystic Fibrosis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cystic Fibrosis / embryology
  • Female
  • Gallbladder / abnormalities
  • Gallbladder / diagnostic imaging*
  • Gallbladder / embryology
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Karyotyping
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Second
  • Prospective Studies
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal
  • gamma-Glutamyltransferase / blood*


  • gamma-Glutamyltransferase