Cirrhosis in Children | Diagnosis & Treatment

How is cirrhosis diagnosed?

Doctors usually base a diagnosis of cirrhosis on a combination of symptoms, medical history, physical exam, and blood tests. In some cases, the doctor may order a liver biopsy to confirm the diagnosis and determine how badly the liver is damaged.

In some cases, doctors use a system called the CTP or Child-Turcotte-Pugh ("Child") score to measure the severity of a child's cirrhosis. This scoring system, named for the surgeons who developed it, can provide a helpful picture of the status of a child's liver and other changes in the body caused by cirrhosis.

How is cirrhosis treated?

In most cases, there is no way to cure cirrhosis. Children with cirrhosis typically need ongoing care for the rest of their lives. The main goal of treatment is to protect the liver from further scarring and address the underlying medical condition that damaged the liver.

While the specific treatment may vary, healthy eating and regular monitoring are important for any child with cirrhosis.

Healthy eating

Because of the liver's important function in helping the stomach absorb nutrients, healthy eating is doubly important for children with cirrhosis or any other liver disease. The child's doctor may also prescribe caloric supplements or special formulas to promote healthy weight gain and development.

Regular monitoring

Cirrhosis can lead to complications in many organs and systems in the body. Regular check ups and monitoring enable clinicians to keep a close eye on the child and treat complications early. This may include:

  • diuretics to reduce swelling in a child's legs or abdomen
  • regular screening for esophageal varices (enlarged veins on the lining of the esophagus)
  • regular screening for portal hypertension or hepatopulmonary syndrome

Cirrhosis and medication

It is important to talk to a child’s pediatrician before giving the child any new medications or supplements. This even includes vitamins.

A damaged liver cannot break down medicine as quickly as healthy liver, so prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs and vitamin or herbal supplements may be more potent for a child with cirrhosis. Other times, the damaged liver may not convert the medicine or supplement into an active form.

Liver Transplant

Two of the most serious risks of cirrhosis are liver failure and liver cancer. If either of these conditions develops, the child may need a liver transplant.