Differentiating biliary atresia from other causes of cholestatic jaundice

Am Surg. 2014 Sep;80(9):827-31.


Diagnosis of biliary atresia (BA) in infants presenting with cholestatic jaundice (CJ) requires exploratory surgery with cholangiography. However, the lack of a standardized approach to preoperative evaluation of infants with CJ can lead to a high number of negative surgical explorations. We reviewed our experience with CJ and BA to determine preoperative variables that might reliably identify BA. Infants explored for possible BA over a 5-year period were retrospectively reviewed. Preoperative clinical indices and liver biopsy results were reviewed. Statistical analysis was conducted by Student's t test and Fisher's exact test (P < 0.05). Twenty patients were identified, 10 with BA and 10 without (50% negative exploration rate). Nuclear cholescintigraphy (HIDA) excretion into the gastrointestinal tract was absent in all BA and in 8 of 10 without BA. Hepatomegaly was more common in the BA group (OR = 9.3, P = 0.07). BA had higher mean (± standard error) serum gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase levels (542 ± 130 vs 139 ± 25.8 U/L in non-BA, P = 0.03). There were insignificant differences in sex, type of feeding, TPN exposure and sepsis between the two groups. Although our small sample size limits conclusions, we suggest screening infants with CJ by measuring GGT levels, absence of hepatomegaly, presence of cholic stools and/or excretion on HIDA scan to undergo pecutaneous liver biopsy given the lower likelihood of BA necessary.

MeSH terms

  • Biliary Atresia / complications*
  • Biliary Atresia / diagnosis*
  • Biliary Atresia / enzymology
  • Biopsy
  • Cholangiography
  • Cholestasis / diagnosis
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Hepatitis / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Jaundice, Obstructive / etiology*
  • Liver Function Tests
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • gamma-Glutamyltransferase / blood


  • gamma-Glutamyltransferase