Treatment Options for Chronic Cholestasis in Infancy and Childhood

Curr Treat Options Gastroenterol. 2005 Oct;8(5):419-30. doi: 10.1007/s11938-005-0045-5.


Altered bile flow physiology leads to many complications commonly seen in patients with cholestatic liver disease, regardless of the etiology. For each individual patient, a coordinated and effective treatment strategy must address the presence and the severity spectrum of malabsorption, malnutrition, vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies, pruritus, xanthomata, ascites, and liver failure, which are attributed directly or indirectly to diminished bile flow. An aggressive approach to maximizing the nutritional status of the child is vital to ensure optimal growth and development. Protein-calorie and/or fat supplementation is best discussed early. Decreasing the percentage of dietary long-chain triglycerides, providing medium-chain triglycerides, and ensuring adequate essential fatty acid and adequate protein intake may be helpful. Fat-soluble vitamin (A, D, E, and K) levels and micronutrient levels must be carefully and serially monitored and supplemented as necessary. Because the mechanisms that mediate pruritus of cholestasis remain to be determined, the use of empirical therapies continues to be standard practice. Ursodeoxycholic acid may ameliorate pruritus. Antihistamines and rifampicin may also provide temporary relief for some children. Based on the evidence that increased central opioidergic tone is present in chronic cholestasis, the use of opiate antagonists is promising but has not been evaluated in children. Selected patients with refractory pruritus that have failed maximal medical therapy have benefited from partial external biliary diversion. Ongoing dialogue with the family regarding the indications for liver transplantation is reasonable. Optimization and adherence with the pretransplant medical management enhance the chances for a successful outcome from liver transplantation. Specific to the pediatric patient, optimizing growth, development and nutrition, minimizing discomfort and disability, and aiding the child and family in coping with the stress, social, and emotional effects of chronic liver disease remain paramount.