Liver Failure | Diagnosis & Treatment

How is liver failure diagnosed?

To diagnose liver disease, clinicians typically consider the child’s symptoms and conduct a physical examination. The following tests are often part of the diagnostic process.

Blood tests

A sample of the child's blood may be tested for the following signs of liver disease:

  • albumin, a protein made by the liver and found in the bloodstream & lower-than-normal levels are associated with many liver disorders.
  • bilirubin, a substance produced by the liver and excreted in the bile. Elevated levels of bilirubin indicate a problem with the liver.
  • liver enzymes, elevated levels of liver enzymes can alert physicians to liver damage or injury.
  • prothrombin time (PT) test, measures the time it takes for blood to clot. Since blood clotting requires vitamin K and a protein made by the liver, liver cell damage and bile flow obstruction can interfere with proper blood clotting.

Abdominal ultrasound (also called sonography), enables clinicians to view a child's liver function and assess blood flow through various vessels.

Liver biopsy, a procedure that takes a small sample of liver tissue to be examined under a microscope. Besides helping diagnose liver disease, a biopsy can give doctors a better idea of the extent of damage and make decisions about the best treatment for the child.

Computerized tomography scan (CT or CAT scan), a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to show a detailed image of internal organs such as the liver. Images from a CT scan is more detailed than an x-ray alone.

How is liver failure treated?

Treatment depends on many factors, including the stage of liver failure and underlying cause. While a healthy liver can recover from damage or illness, acute or chronic liver failure are both severe conditions that often cannot be reversed. In many cases, the only option for a child with liver failure is a Liver Transplant. Doctors will work with the family to stabilize the child’s condition while they wait for the donation of a healthy liver.

Treatment for a child on a liver transplant wait list may include:

  • treating the underlying condition that caused the initial damage
  • treating the side effects of liver failure