Liver Disease in Children

The liver is a vital organ, responsible for helping your body digest food and rid itself of toxic substances. When the liver becomes severely damaged it can result in acute or chronic liver disease, or liver failure - both of which are life-threatening conditions.

Our team of SLUCare Physician Group hepatologists (liver doctors) at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital are leaders in the care of children with liver disease. We provide some of the most advanced treatments available for the full range of problems that can affect your child’s liver.

Working in tandem with specialists across our hospital, we offer personalized care and support every step of the way. As a result, we have exceptional survival rates and positive outcomes, consistently surpassing national averages.

Signs & Symptoms of Liver Disease

Liver disease is extremely prevalent in the US with at least 30 million people experiencing some form of the disease. In fact, there are more than 100 types of known liver disease affecting both children and adults. Because liver disease presents such a wide range of symptoms it can often be hard to diagnose.

Talk to your child’s doctor immediately if they have any of the following signs and symptoms of liver disease:

  • Jaundice: yellow coloring of the skin and whites of the eyes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Ascites: abdominal swelling
  • Change of sleep patterns
  • Grey or pale colored stools
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Passing of blood in the stools and urine
  • Poor weight gain
  • Portal hypertension and varices
  • Pruritus (itching)
  • Tiredness or loss of stamina
  • Vomiting
  • Vomiting of blood
  • Yellow urine

A child can develop problems with the liver rather unexpectedly. This can happen, for example, after poisoning with certain chemicals, herbs or even some medicines. It can also develop as the result of a longer-term disease or defect, such as hepatitis or biliary atresia.

If your child is experiencing any of the following, take them straight to the emergency room or call 911:

  • Changes in mental status, such as confusion, delirium, coma and extreme sleepiness. These symptoms might be due to a buildup of toxins that would normally be processed by the liver.
  • Vomiting blood: a sign of bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
  • Bloody stool: a sign of bleeding in the GI tract.

Diagnosing Liver Disease

SSM Health Cardinal Glennon hepatologists have extensive experience in diagnosing liver disease. After evaluating your child’s medical history and conducting a physical exam, our doctors may request some additional tests, including:

  • Liver biopsy: small needle is inserted into the liver to collect a tissue sample
  • Liver function tests: measures enzymes that the liver releases in response to damage or disease
  • Ultrasound: uses sound waves to create images of organs and structures inside the body
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: uses X-rays to make detailed pictures of the body
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: uses magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of the organs and tissues

Treating Liver Disease

We strive to provide the most effective, advanced treatment options available for treating liver disease. With a leading pediatric liver transplant program [GB3] and innovations in research, we are on the cutting edge of care, ensuring the best possible outcomes. We treat many liver conditions including:

  • Acute and chronic hepatitis
  • Acute liver failure
  • Alagille syndrome
  • Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency 
  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Biliary and gall bladder disorders
  • Choledochal cyst
  • Chronic hepatitis B
  • Chronic hepatitis C
  • Cirrhosis
  • Congenital hepatic fibrosis
  • Cystic fibrosis liver disease
  • End-stage liver disease
  • Glycogen storage diseases of the liver
  • Hemochromatosis
  • Liver tumors and masses (malignant and non-malignant)
  • Mitochondrial disorders of the liver
  • Portal hypertension and esophageal varices
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis
  • Progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis (Byler syndrome and others)
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Portal hypertension
  • Wilson’s disease

Liver Transplant Services

The pediatric liver transplant program at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon provides life-saving organ transplants to critically-ill children in the Missouri and Illinois region. Our expert team of SLUCare surgeons, liver specialists, nurses, dietitians, and counselors care for all aspects of the health and well-being of your child and their families. The success rates at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon are in the top 25% of programs for children in the United States.

If you have been referred to us and need to schedule an initial evaluation, please call 314-268-4010.  We look forward to caring for your child every step of the way.

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