Pediatric Liver Conditions

The liver is a vital organ in the digestive tract. In infants and children, the liver can become sick due to a wide variety of reasons, ranging from embryologic problems to infections to drug side-effects, even obesity. Virtually any disease in the human body can affect the liver as well. When the liver is sick, it may not function normally, which can lead to symptoms.


Depending on the cause of the liver becoming sick, and how poorly the liver may be functioning, symptoms can vary from nausea, fatigue, jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin), itchy skin, bleeding problems, weight loss, and poor growth. For some children, liver disease is detected because blood tests pick up abnormalities, well before a child feels ill.  


Since the liver is a large organ with multiple vital bodily functions, it can be affected by just about any disease that causes illness elsewhere in the body. The liver can also be affected by infections like the hepatitis viruses (Hepatitis A, B, C, etc.)  that target the liver specifically. The list of all possible conditions that can cause liver disease is long, but can include drugs, infections, even hormonal problems.


Diagnosing a liver disease often requires blood tests. These tests check not only for inflammation of the liver cells, but for how well or poorly the liver is working. Other tests commonly used include abdominal ultrasound and biopsy of the liver.


Treating liver disease depends on the underlying cause, as well as the age of the child. Many times, all that is needed is supportive care, making sure the child gets good nutrition and hydration. Other times, medications are given to treat any underlying infections.