Alagille syndrome (AGS) causes intractable pruritus and disfiguring xanthomas because of retained bile acids and cholesterol. This study was performed to determine whether partial external biliary diversion (PEBD) is effective for relief of pruritus and xanthomas in AGS patients who fail conventional medical therapy. Between the years 1985 and 2001, 9 AGS patients underwent PEBD. Complete follow-up data were available for all patients. The average age at PEBD was 4.8 (range 1.4-10) years. The average duration of follow-up was 7.5 (range 0.5-16.0) years. All 9 patients had severe, mutilating pruritus (grade 4) prior to diversion. At 1 year post-PEBD, the average pruritus score was 1.1; 8 patients had only mild scratching when undistracted. Three patients with extensive xanthomas prior to PEBD had complete resolution within 1 year. Mean serum bile salt levels (n = 5) decreased from 136.5 to 37.1 μmol/L and mean cholesterol (n = 7) from 724 to 367 mg/dL 1 year after PEBD. A single 21-year-old patient with PEBD for 14 years experienced an increase in pruritus from grade 1 to grade 4 within 2 months of elective reversal of PEBD. In conclusion, PEBD is effective for treating severe pruritus and hypercholesterolemia in AGS patients without cirrhosis who did not respond to medical therapy. PEBD should be considered as a therapeutic option for these patients before referral for liver transplantation because of morbid complications.
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