• Vol. 39 No. 8, 648–654
  • 15 August 2010

Clinical Features Differentiating Biliary Atresia from Other Causes of Neonatal Cholestasis



Introduction: This study determined any clinical features which may help to differentiate biliary atresia (BA) from other causes of neonatal cholestasis (NC).

Materials and Methods: A prospective and observational study was conducted on consecutive infants with NC referred to the University of Malaya Medical Centre, Malaysia, between November 1996 and May 2004.

Results: The 3 most common causes of cholestasis among the 146 infants with NC studied were idiopathic neonatal hepatitis (n = 63, 43%), BA (n = 35, 24%) and congenital cytomegalovirus hepatitis (n = 13, 9%). Common clinical features at presentation were jaundice (100%), hepatomegaly (95%), splenomegaly (52%) and pale stools (47%). Three clinical features noted to be sensitive for BA were the presence of acholic or variably acholic stools on admission, a liver which was firm/hard in consistency and a palpable liver of ≥4 cm (sensitivity of 77%, 80% and 94%, respectively), but the corresponding specificity was poor (51%, 65% and 39%, respectively). The stools of 2 children with BA were pigmented initially but became acholic subsequently.

Conclusions: We did not find any single clinical feature with sufficient sensitivity and specificity to differentiate BA from other causes of NC. Repeated inspection of stools colour is necessary as occasionally, patients with BA may have initial pigmented stools. Biochemical assessment and imaging studies are important in the assessment of any infant with NC.

Causes of neonatal cholestasis (NC) are long and diverse but the responses of newborn liver, either physiological or anatomical, are limited. This is because the ability of a developing liver of responding in the face of a variety of insults are limited.

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