Can liver disease in kids be avoided?

Can liver disease in kids be avoided?

Most liver disorders during the neonatal stage of life can be treated before the condition worsens, writes Dr Surender K Yachha


Liver plays an important role in metabolism, storage, detoxification besides bile excretion in the intestine for several digestive functions. Liver diseases in children have a huge spectrum of causes ranging from inborn errors of metabolism, infective and acquired, etc. Around 30% of liver disorders in children in India are constituted by neonatal cholestasis (liver disorders of newborn and early infancy). It is vital to identify liver disease in newborn babies and treat them as early as possible.

Telling signs

If a child shows signs of jaundice in the first week of life with passage of yellow urine or staining in the diaper, it is an indication that the baby is suffering from liver disease. Dark yellow urine signifies that the liver is on fire and it’s a sign of emergency. Neonatal jaundice is yellowish discolouration of the skin and eyes. In such cases, parents need to stay cautious and inform the doctor.

Liver disorders in children in India are linked to disorders such as neonatal cholestasis, galatosemia (a genetic disorder that affects the ability of a body to process simple sugar known as galactose), Wilson disease (a disorder that causes liver to accumulate copper, possibly to a life -threatening level), autoimmune and acute and chronic hepatitis. These diseases can be treated if diagnosed early. There are cases where the biliary tract is blocked since birth called biliary atresia. Children who have been diagnosed under such a category should undergo immediate surgery within eight weeks of life. Any delay in the surgery can lead to development of liver cirrhosis and ultimately, may require liver transplant. Acute viral hepatitis is a common liver infection, especially in India, that leads to inflammation of the organ and results in liver cell damage and destruction. It is advisable to vaccinate children for hepatitis B virus as early as possible.

Identifying liver disease

Jaundice and passage of dark urine is a symptom that the liver and spleen may be enlarged. It is of extreme importance to keep a check on the overall
health of the newborn, identify discolouration in skin, urine and stool.

Prevention: Most liver disorders during the neonatal stage of life can be treated before the condition worsens. If any unusual symptoms are visible, it is advisable to consult a paediatric gastroenterologist. Avoid giving children
processed and packaged foods (junk food) as they accumulate fats in the liver and lead to liver ailments.

 (The author is director, paediatrics, Sakra World Hospital)