7 Causes of Liver Cirrhosis in Children Explained (With Signs and Symptoms)

Cirrhosis is a progressive disease where healthy, soft liver tissues are replaced by scar tissues. In young children, the condition is often inherited from their parents. And in adolescents, chronic liver diseases such as Wilson disease or autoimmune hepatitis can be the reason. Early diagnosis and ongoing care can prevent further scarring of the liver and tend to the underlying cause. But, can it be completely cured? Let’s find out.

A brief on liver and its functions

The liver is the largest internal organ that controls most chemicals in our body. It secretes bile to break down fats, filters blood & excretes toxic foreign substances via stool and urine, helps in protein synthesis, regulates blood clotting and more. Liver disease can prevent your liver from functioning properly or stop it from working. According to recent research, of all paediatric illnesses, liver diseases account for 15 to 20%.

What causes cirrhosis in children?

Do you know, a liver can regrow to its original size even after 90% of it has been removed due to surgery or injury? But chronic illnesses can shrink or permanently scar your child’s liver. With that said, here are the conditions that can lead to cirrhosis.

  1. Biliary Atresia – Occurring exclusively in children in the first few weeks of life, Biliary Atresia causes complete blockage of biliary ducts. It happens when the bile ducts do not develop to their full capacity.
  2. Autoimmune hepatitis – A condition where your child’s immune cells mistake healthy liver cells for infected tissues and attack them. Chronic viral hepatitis also causes cirrhosis in children.
  3. Wilson disease – Diagnosed between ages 5 and 35, this rare inherited disorder causes copper to build up in the body. It leads to liver inflammation.
  4. Cystic Fibrosis (CF) – The inherited disease causes mucus glands to produce excessively thick and sticky mucus that clogs bile ducts, resulting in cirrhosis.
  5. Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) – This chronic disease blocks bile ducts inside and outside the liver, resulting in bile buildup.

  6. Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) –It leads to excessive fat accumulation in the liver, triggering an inflammatory response in the liver resulting in liver damage and the need for liver damage treatment

  7. Other inherited/bile-duct diseases include Glycogen storage disease, Alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency, Congenital heart defects, Tyrosinemia, Congenital hepatic fibrosis and Choledochal cysts.

What are the symptoms of liver cirrhosis in children?

As scar tissues start replacing healthy liver tissues, your child’s liver starts to fail, and symptoms show. The severity depends on the underlying damage.

Early stage symptoms:

Fatigue, nausea, abdominal swelling, loss of appetite, and bruises that take longer to heal.

Advanced stage problems:

  • Swelling of legs and abdomen due to water retention, resulting in edema and ascites
  • Tremors, loss of memory and cognitive ability due to encephalopathy
  • Purplish-red spider-like blood vessels, especially around the navel
  • Palms of the hand turn red due to palmar erythema
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eye)
  • Dark urine and stools

Internally, your child’s kidney fails, liver & spleen enlarges, blood vessels in the stomach and oesophagus rupture, and result in internal bleeding or, in rare cases, liver cancer. Should your child exhibit these symptoms, your liver transplant surgeon may perform a liver biopsy or suggest tests to assess liver function and confirm/rule out cirrhosis. Sadly, there’s no cure for cirrhosis in children. However, timely diagnosis and medications can control the cause of cirrhosis and prevent further damage. Balanced nutritional intake can promote healthy weight gain and slow the progress of cirrhosis

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