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Liver Disease

Liver Disease Symptoms in Children

When diagnosing liver disease, the doctors at the St. Louis Children's Hospital Liver Care and Transplant Center will take an audit of your child's symptoms and conduct a physical examination. In addition, the doctor may request a liver biopsy, liver function tests, an ultrasound, a computed tomography (CT) scan, and/or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.

Common liver disease symptoms may include the following:

  • Jaundice: a yellow discoloration of the skin and whites of the eyes due to abnormally high levels of bilirubin (bile pigment) in the bloodstream. Urine is usually dark because of the bilirubin excreted through the kidneys. 
  • Cholestasis: bile flow is reduced or stopped. "Chole" refers to bile and "stasis" means "not moving." Bile flow may be blocked inside the liver, outside the liver or in both places. 
  • Liver enlargement: there are usually no symptoms associated with a slightly enlarged liver (hepatomegaly). Symptoms of a grossly enlarged liver include abdominal discomfort or "feeling full."
  • Portal hypertension: abnormally high blood pressure in the portal vein, which supplies the liver with blood from the intestine. Portal hypertension can lead to the growth of new blood vessels (called collaterals) that connect blood flow from the intestine to the general circulation, bypassing the liver. When this occurs, substances that are normally removed by the liver pass into the general circulation.
  • Esophageal varices: dilated blood vessels within the walls of the lower part of the esophagus that are prone to bleeding. 
  • Ascites: a fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity.
  • Liver encephalopathy: the deterioration of brain function and damage to the nervous system due to toxic substances building up in the blood, which are normally removed by the liver. Liver encephalopathy is also called portal-systemic encephalopathy, hepatic encephalopathy, or hepatic coma.
  • Liver failure: severe deterioration of liver function. 

To request an appointment with a pediatric liver specialist at St. Louis Children's Hospital, call 314.454.5437 or 800.678.5437 or email us.