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Chronic Liver Disease in Children

The liver, which is the second-largest organ in the body, is a vital organ in the body that rids the body of toxic substances. Chronic liver disease, also known as end-stage liver disease is a rare but serious condition that occurs when a long-term illness impairs or damages the liver and as a result its functions decline, and it cannot efficiently rid the body of toxins or produce bile, which helps in food digestion. This condition, which can affect babies, children and adolescents, can be life-threatening.

Causes of Chronic Liver Disease in Children

Causes of chronic liver disease include:

  1. Metabolic liver diseases like Wilson’s disease whereby the body cannot process copper from food, which a result accumulates in the liver.
  2. Biliary atresia, which is condition that occurs when the bile duct is blocked making it impossible for the bile juice to flow through it.
  3. Liver cirrhosis, which is a liver disease whereby scar tissue build up and replace healthy liver tissue and as a result interferes with the liver’s ability to filter toxins.
  4. Hepatitis C, which is a chronic viral infection of the liver. However, it is less common in children and adolescents.

Common Symptoms of Chronic Liver Disease in Children

The most common symptoms of chronic liver disease is the presence of jaundice. This is characterized by the yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. Other symptoms include:

  • Dark urine
  • Pale-coloured stool
  • Pain from the gallbladder or the pancreas
  • Nausea
  • Easy bleeding
  • Abnormal build-up of fluid in the stomach, also known as ascites.
  • Itching
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Upper right abdominal pain
  • Weakness

Diagnosis of Chronic Liver Disease in Children

If a child presents with any of the above-named symptoms, it is important that you see a paediatric liver specialist immediately. While here, the child will under a number of tests in order to have a definite diagnosis of the condition.

These tests include:

  • Physical exam
  • Blood tests to find out how well the liver is working, and how long it takes the blood to clot.
  • Liver function test which measures the enzymes that the liver releases
  • Liver biopsy whereby a small tissue of the liver is taken for examination
  • CT Scan to take detailed pictures of the body
  • Ultrasound to create images of the body organs

Treatment of Chronic Liver Disease in Children

Treatment of chronic liver disease is usually decided upon after a definitive diagnosis of the underlying cause has been made. If the disease has been caused by a viral infection, then the symptoms of the said infection may be treated until the liver recovers. On the other hand, with majority of the cases of chronic liver disease, an evaluation of a life-saving liver transplant has to made. At this juncture, our paediatric hepatologist usually talks candidly with the parents or guardians of the patient regarding this option.

Next Step

At King’s College Hospital; our paediatric liver specialists are UK board certified and come with decades of experience. While here, we will ensure that your child receives the best possible care. Contact us to find out more about our paediatric hepatology services or to arrange an appointment.

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