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There are many ways you can help children and their families get the care they need.
We understand that you may have a lot of questions when your child is diagnosed with cirrhosis.
We’ve tried to provide some answers to those questions here, and when you meet with our experts, they can explain your child’s condition and treatment options fully.
What is the liver, and what does it do?
The liver is the body’s second largest organ, located in the right side of the abdominal cavity below the diaphragm and above the right kidney and intestines. The liver helps the body in hundreds of ways:
What is cirrhosis?
While the liver has an amazing capacity to heal itself if damaged by illness or injury, in the case of long term damage the liver may become scarred. The most severe form of scarring is called cirrhosis.
What happens to the liver in cirrhosis?
The normal healthy liver has a smooth, shiny surface. Over time, as the liver tries to recover from long-term illness or injury, hard scar tissue can replace the liver’s healthy tissue. When this happens, blood cannot flow through the liver as easily and the liver cannot work as well. Once it has started, if the damage continues, the scar tissue in the liver will gradually replace the liver’s healthy tissue, and the organ can actually start to shrink and take on a shriveled appearance. When the scarring (also called fibrosis) gets to the point of causing nodules instead of a soft, smooth liver, it is called cirrhosis.
What causes cirrhosis?
Because cirrhosis is always linked to some kind of long-term disease or injury to the liver, it can be caused by a large number of disorders. In adults, chronic alcohol ingestion, viral hepatitis, and fatty liver are the most common causes. In children, biliary tract disorders and genetic conditions top the list of causes:
While in adults overconsumption of alcohol is the most common cause of cirrhosis, it is important to stress that no amount of alcohol consumption by a parent, even during pregnancy, can cause a child to develop cirrhosis.
What are the symptoms of cirrhosis?
Cirrhosis itself generally produces no symptoms early on, though your child may experience symptoms related to the underlying medical condition that caused the liver damage. As it worsens, cirrhosis may cause:
With time, cirrhosis may also lead to additional serious problems, including:
Because in cirrhosis blood cannot flow as easily through the liver, the pressure in the vein entering your child’s liver, called the portal vein, may increase, a condition called portal hypertension. This condition can cause its own symptoms and complications, and has its own treatments. The increased blood pressure in the portal vein can also affect how blood circulates in the lungs, causing conditions called hepatopulmonary syndrome and portopulmonary hypertension.
How is cirrhosis diagnosed?
Doctors usually make a diagnosis of cirrhosis based on a combination of symptoms, medical history, physical exam, and blood tests. In some cases, our doctors may order a liver biopsy to confirm the diagnosis, which will help them see the extent of the scarring in the liver.
How do you treat cirrhosis?
While in most cases there is no way to cure cirrhosis, our doctors will work with you and your child to control it and keep it from getting worse. They will also help understand and treat the underlying illness or damage that is causing the liver to scar.
Cirrhosis can also raise your child’s risk of developing liver cancer. And in advanced cases, cirrhosis can cause the liver to start to fail altogether. If that should happen, we may refer your child for a liver transplant.
How can cirrhosis affect my child in the long term?
Cirrhosis is a chronic condition, and for this reason 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.
You and your family play an essential role in your child’s care for cirrhosis. It’s important that you share your observations and ideas with your child’s treating physician, and that you have all the information you need to fully understand the treatment team’s explanations and recommendations.
You’ve probably thought of many questions to ask about your child’s cirrhosis. It’s often very helpful to jot down your thoughts and questions ahead of time and bring them with you, along with a notebook, to your child’s appointment. That way, you’ll have all of your questions in front of you when you meet with your child’s treating clinician and can make notes to take home with you.
Some questions to ask your doctor might include:
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