Managing liver failure

Postgrad Med J. 2002 Nov;78(925):660-7. doi: 10.1136/pmj.78.925.660.


Liver disease is rare in childhood, but important new developments have altered the natural history and outcome. It is important that clinicians are aware of these diseases and their management. Acute liver failure is most often due to viral hepatitis, paracetamol overdose, or inherited metabolic liver disease. The clinical presentation includes jaundice, coagulopathy, and encephalopathy. Early diagnosis is necessary to prevent complications such as cerebral oedema, gastrointestinal bleeding, and renal failure. Early supportive management, in particular intravenous N-acetylcysteine, may be effective but liver transplantation is usually the definitive treatment and thus early referral to a specialist unit for liver transplantation is mandatory. Chronic liver failure may be due to unresolved neonatal liver disease, either inherited biliary hypoplasia or extrahepatic biliary atresia, while in older children, autoimmune liver disease or cystic fibrosis are the commonest causes. Treatment includes specific medication, nutritional support, and liver transplantation, which now has a 90% survival with good quality life.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chronic Disease
  • Hemorrhage / etiology
  • Hemorrhage / therapy
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Liver Failure / etiology
  • Liver Failure / therapy*
  • Liver Failure, Acute / etiology
  • Liver Failure, Acute / therapy
  • Liver Transplantation
  • Metabolic Diseases / etiology
  • Metabolic Diseases / therapy
  • Sepsis / etiology
  • Sepsis / therapy
  • Varicose Veins / etiology
  • Varicose Veins / therapy