Sickle Cell Related Liver Disease

A terrific review of sickle cell disease (SCD) associated liver problems: F Lacaille et al. JPGN 2021; 72: 5-10. The Liver in Sickle Cell Disease

While the most frequent liver-related problem in individuals is cholelithiasis (>25% after age 5 yrs), a host of other problems can develop –this article is a good reference.

Key points:

  • Acute Sickle Cell Hepatic Crisis, Intrahepatic cholestasis, and acute hepatic sequestration
    • ~6% of children and 10% of adults develop severe liver complications of SCD
    • With sequestration, indications include pain with acute drop in hemoglobin (>2 g/dL)
    • Acute hepatic crisis is often signaled by elevated conjugated bilirubin
    • With severe liver disease/liver ischemia, authors advocated for exchange transfusion which “more efficiently decreases HbS percentage, faster restoring the blood flow than simple transfusion.” Consider after excluding biliary complication if INR is >1.4 with increased conjugated bilirubin (>3 mg/L). “Simple transfusion should be discussed in other cases.”
  • Cholangiopathy and autoimmune liver disease
    • Although autoimmune sclerosing cholangitis/autoimmune hepatitis are rare, it may account for 8% of children with SCD referred for hepatic dysfunction
    • Liver biopsy, needed for diagnosis, “is a dangerous procedure in SCD, which cannot be performed without at least a transfusion”
    • “Steroids can induce sickle crisis”
    • Look for ANA, SMA, LKM, and ANCA
  • Iron Overload
    • “It is not usually a significant concern in children…In our patients, the median ferritin level was about 3000 ng/mL, and none had a severe overload on MRI”
  • Infections/Drug toxicity
    • Need to consider hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and hepatitis E in particular
    • Inquire about herbal medicines and recreative drugs
  • Liver transplantation
    • Results are often poor.
    • Problems include sickle cell crisis in the transplanted liver, and drug toxicity which can add to the neurological and renal morbidities of SCD
  • Stem cell transplantation
    • Consider for severe complications of SCD including hepatic complications

Related blog posts: 

From NY Times

Online Aspen Webinar (Part 9) -Liver Disease After Fontan, Acute on Chronic Liver Disease and Immunosuppression Withdrawal Strategies

Below I’ve included a few more slides form recent Aspen Webinars

Fontan Associated Liver Disease  Greg Tiao

Related blog posts:

Acute on Chronic Liver Failure  Estella Alonso

Immunosuppression strategies ..and is withdrawal possible  Kathleen Campbell

Online Aspen Webinar -COVID-19, Autoimmune Hepatitis (Part 8)

For those who want to view the actual lectures, you can sign up and view the recordings:  Aspen Webinar Lecture Series

Below I’ve included a few slides and some notes; my notes may have errors of omission or transcription.

COVID-19 and the Liver — Fred Suchy

Key Points:

  • The extent and severity of liver disease related to COVID-19  is still being determined.  Many individuals have mild liver test abnormalities (5-60%)
  • Avoid imaging unless it will change your management (eg. thrombus)
  • In those with worsening/significant liver abnormalities, look for other etiologies of elevated liver tests (eg. other viral hepatitis, drugs, myositis, coinfection, clots, multi-system inflammatory disorder)
  • Currently, no change in immunosuppression is recommended in the post-transplant population WITHOUT COVID-19. In those with severe COVID-19 infection, reduction in immunosuppression is recommended


How I Manage Patients with Autoimmune Hepatitis -Diagnosis and Treatment   Amy Taylor.

Key points:





Stratifying Cystic Fibrosis Liver Disease with Ultrasonography

A recent multicenter case-controlled study (MJ Siegel, J Freeman, W Ye et al. J Pediatr 2020; 219: 62-9) show that ultrasonography can identify children with cystic fibrosis (CF) at increased risk for developing advanced CF liver disease; it is well-recognized that currently advanced CF liver disease occurs predominantly in children.

Among 722 participants who underwent ultrasonography as part of a planned 9 year research study, 65 had heterogeneous liver pattern and 592 had a normal liver pattern at baseline.

Key findings at planned 4-year interim analysis in a subgroup of 55 with (baseline) heterogeneous liver pattern and 116 with (baseline) normal liver pattern:

  • Those with heterogeneous liver pattern had higher median biochemical markers of liver disease: ALT 42 vs 32, GGT 36 vs 15, AST to platelet ratio index: 0.7 vs 0.4
  • Those with heterogeneous liver pattern were at ~9-fold increased risk of developing a nodular liver pattern (23% vs. 2.6%).
  • The authors did not identify specific clinical risk factors that predict the development of nodular liver ultrasound pattern

My take: Even among those with a heterogeneous pattern, the majority will not develop a ultrasonography (nodular) pattern of advanced liver disease.  Much more insight in this area is needed with the advancement in medical treatments and with the more availability of elastography.

Related blog posts:

Island Ford Nat’l Recreation Area/Chattahoochee River

“When the Cause of Liver Disease Is the Heart”

A recent review (S Ofei, C Gariepy. JPGN 2017; 64: 3-7) provides a good review of “congestive hepatopathy.”

Key points:

  • Overall, the liver receives 25% of cardiac output; though, 70% of blood flow to the liver is partially deoxygenated blood.  Cardiac disease can lead to liver disease due to hypoxic injury.
  • “Congestive hepatopathy (CH) results from chronic right heart dysfunction with decreased hepatic blood flow, arterial saturation, and increased central venous pressure.”  Ultimately, CH can lead to hepatic cirrhosis, termed ‘cardiac cirrhosis’ by the authors.
  • “Symptoms of CH are vague.” These symptoms could include abdominal pain nausea, and early satiety.
  • Treatment is uncertain.  “Guidelines and expert consensus..favor use of loop diuretics in patients with jaundice, hepatic congestion, and ascites.”
  • With regard to patients with Fontan-associated liver disease (FALD), “there is no consensus.” Patients should be treated for complications like varices, coagulopathy, and nutritional deficiencies.”  Some patients will need liver transplantation, though liver disease may be reversible with cardiac transplantation.  The article provides many references that provide more in-depth review of this topic.

My take: Overall, this article provides a succinct review of congestive hepatopathy.  There are many other cardiac conditions associated with liver dysfunction including heart disease associated with NAFLD, Alagille syndrome, and Kawasaki’s.



Related blog posts:

PSC 2013 Review

A recent review of PSC was published (Gastroenterology 2013; 145: 521-36).  This review is a little more detailed than a previous review noted in this blog less than 6 months ago (Staying current with PSC | gutsandgrowth).

A couple of useful comments from the review:

  • “An increased serum level of alkaline phosphatase is the most common biochemical abnormality detected in patients with PSC.  In some cases, it is the only biochemical alteration observed, such as in patients with intrahepatic involvement.”
  • “Typically, a liver biopsy is not required to diagnose PSC unless small duct PSC is suspected or if there are concerns that a patient also has AIH.”  Cholangiography is the best way to identify PSC.
  • “Patients diagnosed with PSC should undergo colonoscopy… to determine if they have IBD, even when there are no symptoms.”
  • Autoimmune hepatitis-PSC overlap is thought to occur in ≤6% of cases.  AIH-PSC should be suspected if there are biochemical features of AIH (positive serology, increased transaminases), histology suggestive of AIH, or in AIH patients that become refractory to treatment.
  • No controlled trials have identified effective medical treatments.  Studied medications have included corticosteroids, etanercept, tacrolimus, cyclosporine, azathioprine, methotrexate, infliximab, and ursodeoxycholic acid.  The latter may increase disease progression, particularly at higher doses.

Also noted:

Hepatology 2013; 58: 1392-1400. “Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, Autoimmune Hepatitis, and Overlap in Utah Children: Epidemiology and Natural History”

In this study the authors identified 607 cases of IBD, 29 cases of PSC, 12 cases of ASC (overlap), and 44 cases of AIH.  “Cholangiocarcinoma developed in 2 of the 29 PSC patients (6.9%).  PSC occurred in 9.9% of patients with ulcerative colitis (UC) and 0.6% of patients with Crohn’s disease.”

Related blog posts:

Disclaimer: These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications (along with potential adverse effects) and specific medical management interventions should be confirmed by prescribing physician.  Application of the information in a particular situation remains the professional responsibility of the practitioner.

Mitochondrial Liver Disease

A recent review provides advice for the evaluation of the child with suspected mitochondrial liver disease (JPGN 2013; 57: 269-79).

Clinical presentations:

  • Acute in a child with no history of hepatic dysfunction
  • Chronic liver and CNS dysfunction
  • Onset of liver disease in patient with known CNS disorder

Suggested Tiered Diagnostic Evaluation: Table 1 provides extensive suggestions.

  • 1st tier: CMP, INR, AFP, CPK, Phos, CBC/d, ammonia, Lactate/pyruvate (preferably 1 hour after feeding), serum ketone bodies, serum acylcarnitine profile, carnitine profile, urine organic acids, serum amino acids, urine acylglycines and 2-ethylmalonic acid quantification, plasma thymidine (especially if intestinal dysmotility), quantitative serum methylmalonic acid, CSF analysis (lactate and pyruvate, amino acids, protein)
  • 2nd tier: genotyping for more common genes (eg. panel with POLG1, DGUOK, MPV17), other genetic tests based on tier 1 testing (see table for details)
  • 3rd tier: liver biopsy, skin biopsy, and muscle biopsy (see table for details)
  • 4th tier: additional genetic tests based on 1st three tiers

Table 2 describes potential evaluations in other organs.  For example, for brain, MRI, EEG and CSF.

Table 3 lists ~27 mutation/syndromes and clinical features.

The last three words from the conclusion of the publication are not supported by the review.  The authors state that this systematic approach “can aid in making a timely, accurate, and cost-effective diagnosis.”  While the authors do not provide estimates of the expense of these tests, they are probably very expensive, though less costly than a failed liver transplantation.

Bottomline: “Available technology to aid in diagnosis has improved substantially.  Nonetheless, diagnosis of suspected mitochondrial disease in children is complicated.”

Related blog post:

Proven treatments for mitochondrial disorders | gutsandgrowth

Common to be “D-ficient”

Many of the children that a pediatric gastroenterologist sees are at risk for Vitamin D deficiency, including children with inflammatory bowel disease, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, and liver diseases.  In addition, vitamin D deficiency is widespread: in U.S. 50% of children aged 1-5 years and 70% 6-11 years are vitamin D deficient or insufficient. A thorough review on this “D-lightful” vitamin was in a recent JPEN (JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr 2012; 9S-19S).

History: In 1822 Sniadecki recognized children in urban but not rural Poland developed rickets. He postulated the effects of the sun as the reason for rickets; his idea was dismissed.  In 1920s, the concept of irradiating milk to prevent rickets emerged. In 1950s, outbreak of hypercalcemia in infants in Great Britain was thought to be related to vitamin D fortification and curtailed this practice in Europe.  However, these cases were likely due to Williams syndrome.

Sources of vitamin D: oily fish (salmon), cod liver oil, some mushrooms, egg yolk, & sunlight. Exposure of an adult in a bathing suit to one minimal erythemal dose (MED) is equivalent to ingesting 20,000 IUs of Vitamin D. (The minimal dose that induces any visible reddening at that point is defined as one MED.)

Effect of sunscreen: A sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 absorbs approximately 98% of solar ultaviolet radiation & thus lowers vitamin D production by 98%.

Ethnicity: Melanin is an effective SPF.  A person of african-american descent, on average, has an SPF of 15, which reduces vitamin D production by 90%.

Age: Aging decreases 7-dehydrocholesterol in human skin.  Due to this, the elderly produce much less vitamin D.  For example, a 70 year old has a 75% reduction compared to a 20 year old.

Forms of vitamin D:  25-hydroxyvitamin D (25OH-D) is the major circulating form of vitamin D & physicians measure 25OH-D. 25OH-D is metabolized in kidney to 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D (1,25OH-D), also called calcitriol.  This is the most biologically-active and is responsible for increasing intestinal calcium absorption and mobilizing calcium from bone.  However, 1,25OH-D provides no information vitamin D deficiency; it can be elevated or normal in deficiency states.

  • Cholecalciferol (vitamin D-3) is formed in the skin from 5-dihydrotachysterol.
  • Ergocalciferol (Vitamin D-2) is the form in Drisdol (8000 IU/mL) & Ergocalciferol Capsules (1.25 mg =50,000 USP Units)

Vitamin D deficiency:  The exact numbers are debated.  The institute of medicine (IOM) has considered individuals deficient if 25OH-D is <20 ng/mL.  The Endocrine Society and the author suggest vitamin D deficiency as <20 ng/mL & insufficiency as <30 ng/mL.  The author recommends ideal levels between 40-60 ng/mL.

Consequences of deficiency:

Osteoporosis, Osteopenia, Rickets (see references below): Bone weakening occurs due to loss of phosphorus from the kidneys.  Vitamin D deficiency lowers accrual of calcium in skeleton and leads to osteoporosis, osteopenia, and rickets. Imaging for rickets: the best single radiographic view for infants and children younger than 3 years is an anterior view of the knee that reveals the metaphyseal end and epiphysis of the femur and tibia. This site is best because growth is most rapid in this location, thus the changes are accentuated.

Nonskeletal consequences: vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased risk for preeclampsia, URIs, asthma, diabetes (type 1), multiple sclerosis, hypertension, and schizophrenia.


  • Infants who are breastfed should be receiving supplemental vitamin D, 400 IU/day.
  • Adults/children (>1 year) RDA 600 IU/day –mostly from diet per IOM. Yet author states, “it is unrealistic to believe that diet alone can ….provide this requirement.”
  • In vitamin D deficient patients: (initial treatment) 2000 IU/day or 50,000 IU/week for 6 weeks.
Toxicity from vitamin D (from NEJM 2010; 364: 248-254.): “Toxicity from vitamin D supplementation is rare and consists principally of acute hypercalcemia, which usually results from doses that exceed 10,000 IU per day; associated serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D are well above 150 ng per milliliter (375 nmol per liter). The tolerable upper level of daily vitamin D intake recently set by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) is 4000 IU.”

Additional references:

  • -Pediatrics 2008; 122: 398. Should give 400 IU/day to breastfed babies. Consequences of Vit D deficiency: increased risk for DM, multiple sclerosis, cancer (breast, prostate,colon), rickets, and schizophrenia. Article lists vit D content of foods (high in cod liver oil, shrimp, fortified milk, many fish). Severe deficiency when < 5ng/mL, deficient if < 15 ng/mL; probably should be >32 ng/mL. Causes of vit D deficiency: decreased synthesis (due to lack of sun -skin pigmentation, sunscreen/clothing, geography, clouds), decreased intake, decreased maternal stores & breastfeeding, malabsorption (eg celiac, CF, EHBA, cholestasis), increased degradation; treatment of rickets: double-dose of vitamin d (~1000 IU/day for babies & 5000 for older kids) x 3-4 months along with calcium (30-75/mg/kg/day). Follow Ca/phos/alk phos monthly. Alternatively, give ~100,000 units over 1-5 days.
  • -JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2011;35:308-316-Results: The study included 504 IBD patients (403 Crohn’s disease [CD] and 101 ulcerative colitis [UC]) who had a mean disease duration of 15.5 years in CD patients and 10.9 years in UC patients; 49.8% were vitamin D deficient, with 10.9% having severe deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency was associated with lower HRQOL (regression coefficient –2.21, 95% confidence interval [CI], –4.10 to –0.33) in CD but not UC (regression coefficient 0.41, 95% CI, –2.91 to 3.73). Vitamin D deficiency was also associated with increased disease activity in CD (regression coefficient 1.07, 95% CI, 0.43 to 1.71). Conclusions: Vitamin D deficiency is common in IBD and is independently associated with lower HRQOL and greater disease activity in CD. There is a need for prospective studies to assess this correlation and examine the impact of vitamin D supplementation on disease course.
  • -JPGN 2011;53: 361. similar prevalence of low Vitamin D as general population –58% with less than 32.
  • -JPGN 2011; 53: 11. Guidelines for bone disease with inflammatory bowel disease.
  • -Pediatrics 2010; 125: 633. Increasing Vit D deficiency noted in minority children. n=290. 22% w levels <20, 74% <30.
  • -Hepatology 2011; 53: 1118. Good vitamin D levels are another favorable predictive factor in antiviral response to Hep C along with IL28B.
  • -NEJM 2010; 364: 248-254. Vitamin D insufficiency. Levels between 20-30 may be OK -not enough evidence to determine conclusively whether this level is detrimental
  • -J Pediatr 2010; 156: 948. High rate among african americans with asthma, 86%. n=63.
  • -Pediatrics 2009; 124:e362. n=6275. 9% of pediatric patients vit D deficient & 61% were insufficient.
  • -Pediatrics 2009; 124:e371. n=3577. low 25OH-D levels inversely assoc with SBP/metabolic syndrome.
  • -NEJM 2009; 360: 398. case report of rickets
  • -J Pediatr 2003; 143: 422 & 434
  • -Pediatrics 2003; 111: 908. 200 IU Vit D recommended for all breastfed infants.
  • -J Pediatr 2000;137: 153 & 143.. Nutritional rickets–primarily in blacks; rec vitamin D 400 IU per day.