Treatments for Cirrhosis of the liver in Children

At Boston Children’s Hospital, we take a multidisciplinary approach to the care of children with cirrhosis. Our Center for Childhood Liver Disease is one of the few centers with a dedicated team of specialists who are board-certified in pediatric hepatology and transplant.

Cirrhosis has no cure; once the liver starts to scar, in most cases the scarring will not go away. Therefore, our focus is to keep your child’s cirrhosis from becoming worse, largely by treating the underlying illness or damage that caused the scarring to start in the first place.

While the specific course of treatment will therefore be chosen largely based on your child’s underlying medical condition, there are some things that we do for all children with cirrhosis:

  • Encourage healthy eating. Good nutrition is key for all people with cirrhosis, young and old. It is especially important for children with cirrhosis or any other liver disease to eat well so as to maintain growth. For this reason, our doctors may prescribe caloric supplements or special formulas.
  • Monitor for complications. Cirrhosis can lead to several complications affecting many organs and systems in the body. Our doctors will keep a close eye on your child to catch any complications early.
  • Treat complications if they arise. For instance, our doctors may prescribe diuretics to reduce any swelling in your child’s legs or abdomen. If he or she develops varices and they start to bleed, our doctors will treat them, either endoscopically or surgically. They may also ask to conduct additional tests if your child starts to show signs of portal hypertension or hepatopulmonary syndrome, and treat him or her accordingly.

Because a damaged liver cannot break down medicines as quickly as if it were healthy, medicines – including over-the-counter medicines or vitamin or herbal supplements – will work more strongly than before. For this reason, if your child has cirrhosis, you should always talk to his or her doctor before starting any new medications or supplements, even vitamins.

If your child’s cirrhosis cannot be treated and his or her liver starts to fail, a liver transplant may become necessary.

Because cirrhosis is a chronic disease, your child will likely have to seek care for it for the rest of his or her life. The Center for Childhood Liver Disease can help you and your child plan for the eventual transition from pediatric to adult care.