Liver diseases in infants and children are not uncommon. They can live a healthy and productive life if these problems are detected and treated at an early stage. Infants born with or those who develop liver problems soon after birth may appear normal in the beginning. However, within first few weeks signs and symptoms become more apparent.
During this period if the disease remains undiagnosed; there is an increased risk of liver failure and consequently the child’s survival. There are host of liver ailments that may have promising outcome if parents are able to learn and detect the signs of liver disorder in newborn baby.
Causes Of Liver Problems In Infants
Infants and children can suffer from several liver disorders. Some of them are congenital meaning the child is born with a liver problem. Some infants develop liver disease after birth. Here are common diseases that affect liver of children.
- Acute liver failure: This is a rare disorder in which the liver stops working completely. Failure occurs because the liver cells die at a rapid pace. It can be caused by number of factors such as autoimmune hepatitis, herpes infection, overdose of medicines, cardiovascular problems, Wilson disease etc.
- Alagille syndrome: This is a disorder affecting bile flow due to fewer bile ducts. In this congenital disorder the infant may have enlarged liver, abnormal heart sound, deposits of cholesterol and fat on skin which may appear as white colored nodes.
- Biliary atresia: This liver problem develops within few weeks after birth. In this disease the bile duct which carries bile from the gallbladder is blocked. The exact cause of blockage is not known, but according to some pediatricians the problem occurs during the developmental stage of liver when the baby is in the womb. Symptoms such as jaundice, dark colored urine, white colored stool, abdominal distension develop between 2 weeks to 8 weeks after birth.
- Jaundice: Many healthy babies soon after birth develop yellow discoloration of skin and eyes. However, in most cases it is physiological jaundice which resolves within 1 or 2 weeks after birth. However, if jaundice continues even for a prolonged time, the baby needs further tests to rule out other liver disorders.
- Viral hepatitis: In infants below the age of two, viral hepatitis is more likely to occur from a vertical transmission of an infected mother. In majority of cases there is a feco oral transmission. Contaminated foods and water are the primary cause. Usually young children remains asymptomatic or do not have jaundice thus many such cases are missed.
Symptoms Of Liver Problems In Infants
The following are classical signs and symptoms of liver problems in infants and children. They are present in almost all the liver diseases of children and infants.
- Jaundice: As mentioned earlier, jaundice is yellow discoloration of skin and eyes. When liver cells start to dysfunction, the bilirubin which is a waste produced by liver starts accumulating in the blood. This gives rise to yellow discoloration of skin and eyes.
- Pale stool: Normally the color of stool is brown or yellow. This color of stool is due to bilirubin which is released in the intestine from the liver. However, in liver disease liver is unable to flush out bilirubin into the intestine. For this reason the stool appears clay colored or white.
- Dark yellow urine: Bilirubin that is circulating in the blood is filtered by the kidney thus the urine color appear dark yellow. The normal color of infant’s urine is white or pale yellow.
- Liver enlargement: In majority cases of liver diseases of infants the liver is enlarged in size.
- Ascities and abdominal swelling: Liver disease can cause collection of fluid in the abdominal cavity which makes the abdomen enlarged in size.
- Skin itching, loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, fever are other symptoms that may be present in many liver problems.