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Liver Function Test: How To Detect Hepatitis in Children

Medically Approved by Dr. Edward Salko

Table of Contents

young mom holding daughter while doctor checks her lungs

The surge of hepatitis among children has reached an alarming rate, as reported by the CDC. However, the outbreak is unusual as experts remain baffled about its particular cause. So, as more details are uncovered from pediatric patients experiencing liver inflammation, it’s best to know more about hepatitis, learn its symptoms, and when to seek immediate diagnosis through blood tests, ultrasound, and biopsy. 

As you read on, you’ll find out the liver function test for children necessary to detect hepatitis early, the different types that affect children, and answers frequently asked by parents online.   

Hepatitis Symptoms in Children 

Hepatitis is characterized by the inflammation of the liver. In most cases, it is due to the infection of hepatitis viruses. But, patients can develop the condition as a compilation of other diseases such as rubella and mononucleosis. 

Among children, the symptoms of hepatitis may vary in terms of the presence and gravity of the condition. Some patients are even asymptomatic, while others exhibit light symptoms. Nevertheless, if you observe the following conditions in your child, it’s best to secure immediate diagnosis and treatment.

Symptoms of Hepatitis 

  • Abdominal pain 
  • Appetite loss 
  • Dark urine 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Fatigue 
  • Fever 
  • Jaundice or yellowing of the skin and sclera 
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Nausea or vomiting 
  • Pale or clay-colored stool 
  • Skin itchiness and rashes

How To Detect Pediatric Hepatitis? 

Doctor doing their work in pediatrics office

Diagnosing hepatitis in children requires various tests starting with a physical exam wherein symptoms are assessed. For example, for acute hepatitis, the skin and eyes are examined for jaundice, and the abdomen is pressed to detect swelling. 

However, as some children may show no physical signs and symptoms, blood tests such as the liver function test for children and hepatitis profile blood test are more effective. 

Generally, a liver function test detects inflammation and abnormalities in the liver. On the other hand, hepatitis blood tests are designed to isolate the hepatitis virus as the cause of the condition. 

Blood tests can readily confirm hepatitis virus infections and specify which variant is the culprit. The procedure is also simple and will only require a blood sample. But your doctor may also perform imaging tests on your children such as ultrasound, MRI, or CT scan to gauge the extent of the damage and inflammation in the liver.    

What Type of Hepatitis Do Kids Typically Get? 

The causative agent for hepatitis may vary depending on the source of the inflammation. Nevertheless, viral hepatitis comprises a large portion of the cases in the US, affecting millions of Americans. And this does not exempt children. 

Recently, adenovirus hepatitis has been associated with a rapid increase in cases globally. However, the connection is still under investigation. 

Nonetheless, here are the types of hepatitis kids in the US can be at risk of and the different ways they are transmitted. 

Hepatitis A: It can be contracted through fecal-oral contact. Children may acquire the virus by ingesting contaminated food or water or touching infected feces. 

Hepatitis B: Children could develop hepatitis B infection through the transfer of infected blood. This can happen through blood transfusion, perinatal transmission, and sharing personal items exposed to infected blood.

Hepatitis C: This hepatitis variant is known to be transmitted sexually. However, pregnant mothers who are infected can transfer the virus to their babies. 

What Is Adenovirus Hepatitis in Children? 

Adenovirus is commonly associated with a mild cold or other related respiratory illnesses. It takes the fecal-oral route as far as transmission is concerned.

Although it is generally related to flu-like conditions, adenoviruses are also known to cause acute hepatitis among patients who are immunocompromised or have a weak immune system. 

Clinical studies are now conducted to uncover the direct connection between adenovirus and hepatitis. According to a report published in the CDC, healthy children who suddenly developed hepatitis got positive tests for adenovirus infection.  

On the other hand, COVID-19 is also linked to pediatric hepatitis. However, it still needs further research and investigation, as recommended in previous studies like one published in The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal

Global Prevalence of Hepatitis in Children 

In early April of 2022, the World Health Organization reported the multicountry outbreak of acute hepatitis among children. While pediatric hepatitis affects 5% to 15% of children, the recent epidemic was unconventional and alarming as the exact cause of arising cases cannot be identified. 

WHO reported that at least 169 cases of hepatitis in children have unknown origins, especially in European countries. In the US, there have been 100 cases of acute hepatitis affecting healthy pediatric patients in 25 states.    

Although the number may seem low, the rate at which the cases arise and the mystery surrounding their origin place experts in a worrying position. Recently, researchers started to explore the possibility of a link between adenovirus-caused hepatitis and COVID-19 infection


How Do I Know if My Child Has Hepatitis?

Signs of hepatitis among children begin with the primary symptoms like jaundice, abdominal pain and swelling, fever, dark urine, and so on. Consult your pediatrician for diagnostic testing as soon as these symptoms are observed. 

On the other hand, if you wish to take precautionary measures involving testing, you can request a liver function test for children. Through this procedure, your doctor can assess your child’s liver health and detect damages, scarring, or abnormalities in the organ.

Can Hepatitis Go Away on Its Own?

Hepatitis, in general, requires treatment and shouldn’t be neglected or assumed to be clear on its own. While hepatitis A typically goes away on its own when it’s not severe, you still need to go through a recommended treatment plan. You can get rid of hepatitis A for good with appropriate treatment if it is acute and with proper rest when it is mild. 

Meanwhile, you may experience lifelong infection if the causative agent for the liver inflammation is hepatitis B and C viruses. This means you may experience recurring symptoms for a long time. With that, you must take antiviral medications as prescribed by your doctor. 

How Fast Do Children Recover From Hepatitis?

Happy african american pediatrician holding a small girl in the hallway at medical clinic

Children may recover from hepatitis between 3 to 6 months. However, this will depend on the type and severity of the condition. For hepatitis A, you can expect a more speedy recovery if no complications develop and the symptoms are light. But for other hepatitis variants, the recovery rate will vary based on their response to medication and the extent of liver damage, 

Bottom Line 

The threat to pediatric health, especially to those children who have no history of medical conditions, should be taken seriously. With the rise of pediatric hepatitis globally, the best decision you can make today for your child is to protect their liver. Take action when symptoms of hepatitis are observed by consulting your doctor and getting a liver function test

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