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Cirrhosis in Children: Symptoms and Treatment

What Is Cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis (pronounced sur-o-sis) is a stage of liver disease that occurs when cells in the liver are
damaged and scar tissue forms. This scar tissue causes blood flow to be blocked and waste
products to build up in the body. In cirrhosis, normal areas of liver are surrounded by scarred areas
that do not function properly.

Cirrhosis in pediatric patients causes normal areas of the liver to be surrounded by scarred areas
that do not function properly.

People often think of cirrhosis as a disease caused by long-term alcohol abuse. While this is
sometimes a factor in adults, cirrhosis in children often stems from a wide variety of liver disorders,
including (but certainly not limited to):

Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C

Autoimmune hepatitis

Inherited diseases:

o Glycogen storage disease

o Tyrosinemia

o Wilson disease

o Alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency

o Cystic fibrosis

Bile duct diseases:

o Biliary artresia

o Sclerosing cholangitis

o Congenital hepatic fibrosis

o Choledochal cysts

Drugs and toxins:

o Isoniazid
o Methotrexate

o Excess vitamin A

Fatty liver disease

Cirrhosis Symptoms in Children

Liver cirrhosis symptoms itself often causes no symptoms early in the disease process. Symptoms
start when there is portal hypertension and/or the liver begins to fail, as scar tissue replaces healthy
cells. Symptom severity may depend on the extent of liver damage.

A person in the early stages of cirrhosis may feel fatigued and weak. Sometimes he or she will
experience abdominal swelling that feels tender or painful. Family may notice the person has a poor
appetite or is losing weight.

As the disease progresses, bile flow is blocked or stopped, and jaundice (yellow skin or eyes)
appears. The same bile pigment, bilirubin, which is responsible for the yellow skin tones of jaundice
can turn urine dark. Bleeding and bruising can occur more easily and take longer to heal. Other later
symptoms, some due to complications, include:

Reddened palms

Loss of body hair

Enlarged liver

Enlarged spleen

Appearance of thin, purplish-red, spidery looking blood vessels on the skin, especially
around the navel

Water retention and swelling in the legs and abdomen

Vomiting blood


Abdominal infections

Forgetfulness or confusion


Inability to fully process drugs

Enlarged, twisted, thin-walled blood vessels called varices in the esophagus and/or stomach
that can rupture and lead to life-threatening bleeding

Liver cancer

Cirrhosis Diagnosis

If your child's doctor suspects that your child has cirrhosis, he or she will perform tests to confirm or
rule out the diagnosis. Tests may include (but are not limited to):

Blood Tests to assess how well the liver is working and determine a cause

CT Scan, Ultrasound, MRI or Liver/Spleen Scan to identify changes in the liver

Liver Biopsy analyzing a sample of liver tissue removed via a thin needle inserted into the

Cirrhosis Treatment

In general, cirrhosis cannot be cured or reversed, doctors treat it with the following goals:

Controlling the cause of the liver damage

Preventing additional damage

Treating symptoms and complications

Treating underlying medical conditions

Your child's doctor may prescribe drugs to treat the underlying cause of the liver disease. Other
medications may be used to control symptoms or fight infections. Some medications are prescribed
to get rid of excess fluid in the body or reduce the risk of a blood vessel breaking. Others help your
child's body cut down on its absorption of harmful waste products or toxins.

If the complications of cirrhosis can no longer be controlled, or if the liver is in danger of no longer
functioning, a liver transplant is often the best option.

Many of the liver disorders that cause cirrhosis in children are not preventable, but there are
precautions you can take. Make sure your child receives all recommended immunizations including
influenza and hepatitis vaccines at the times your pediatrician recommends. If your child needs to
take medications that may damage the liver, follow your doctor's recommendations about blood

Balanced nutritional intake is important for people who already have cirrhosis of the liver can prevent
or slow further liver damage by following their doctor's instructions regarding diet. Your child may
need extra calories to grow properly and to maintain adequate overall strength. If the cirrhosis is
more advanced and compromises the liver's ability to process protein properly, the doctor may
recommend limiting protein. The doctor may also recommend limiting salt in your child's diet,
because salt tends to make the body retain water. They may also advise avoiding raw seafood.
Make sure your child takes any vitamin supplements prescribed. Due to increased risk of infections,
doctors recommend vaccines against flu, pneumonia, and hepatitis for people with cirrhosis.

One of the dangerous complications that can arise in an individual with cirrhosis is variceal
hemorrhage. This occurs when an enlarged blood vessel in the esophagus and/or stomach breaks
open and causes bleeding. Typically if this occurs one may vomit blood (which could be bright red or
black like coffee grounds). Alternatively, blood might be noted in the stools it could be bright red or
black and tarry. This occurrence is a medical emergency. Immediate medical attention should be
sought, either by calling for an ambulance or by going to the nearest medical facility.
- See more at: http://www.chp.edu/our-services/transplant/liver/education/liver-