Signs & Symptoms of Liver Disease in Kids

The liver is a vital organ for detoxification, digestion, cleansing of the blood, and energy. Without proper liver function, many areas of the body can be affected. Knowing the signs and symptoms of liver disease in kids can help prevent any long-term issues from acute or chronic liver disease.

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Types of Liver Disease in Children

Liver problems can develop rather quickly as a result of poisoning or a side effect of a medication, or they can develop slowly over time.

  • Acute – Symptoms develop quickly over a short period of time and typically require immediate care. This could include acute liver failure, an enlarged liver, or sudden drug toxicity.
  • Chronic – Chronic liver conditions can be inherited and present at birth or develop slowly over time. Common pediatric liver conditions that are chronic include cirrhosis, cholestasis, autoimmune hepatitis, biliary atresia, and fatty liver disease.

Signs of Liver Disease in Children

Some of the most common signs of liver disease in children include:

  • Abdominal pain and swelling
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Gray or pale stools
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Poor weight gain

Advanced stages of liver failure may include the following symptoms:

  • Jaundice
  • Vomiting of blood
  • Bloody stools or urine
  • Confusion or delirium
  • Trouble staying awake

If your child has any of these advanced symptoms, seek emergency medical care immediately.

Diagnosis of Liver Disease in Children

Your child’s doctor may order a variety of tests in order to identify and diagnose suspected liver disease. This process may include a urine analysis or blood test to check for proper liver function.

In addition, the following tests may be performed:

  • Liver biopsy -In a biopsy, a small needle will be inserted into your child’s liver to collect a tissue sample for testing. This procedure is usually quick and relatively painless.
  • Liver ultrasound – This non-invasive test uses sound waves to create an image of your child’s liver. Ultrasounds can usually be done rather quickly in a doctor’s office.
  • CT scan or MRI – These advanced imaging techniques allow doctors to see a more detailed picture of the body. They are typically done in a hospital or lab setting.
  • Upper endoscopy – In some cases, this procedure may be required to get a closer look at your child’s upper digestive system and liver. During an endoscopy, a small camera is guided into your child’s mouth while they are under general anesthesia.

Treatment of Liver Disease in Children

Treatment of liver disease will vary depending on the diagnosis made. Typically, a combination of lifestyle changes, medications, and surgery is undertaken. In serious cases, a liver transplant may be needed. Your child’s doctor will discuss a specific treatment plan with you once an exact diagnosis has been reached.

If you suspect your child may be exhibiting signs and symptoms of liver disease, please contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified pediatricians.