To determine the incidence of liver cirrhosis in children with chronic hepatitis, we investigated 92 children (64 were girls; mean age was 8 years 2 months) with chronic hepatitis for the presence of cirrhosis by the combined use of laparoscopy and needle liver biopsy, between 1975 and 1985. Forty-six children had hepatitis B virus-related chronic hepatitis; cirrhosis was present in 13 (32%). Cirrhosis was diagnosed by laparoscopy in 14 children and by needle liver biopsy in eight. In six patients, cirrhosis was diagnosed within the first 12 months after the clinical onset of liver disease. Forty-six childreh had autoimmune hepatitis; cirrhosis was present in 41 (89%). Cirrhosis was diagnosed by laparoscopy in all 41 children and by needle liver biopsy in 23 children. Cirrhosis was already present in all 10 children studied 2 to 5 months after the first sign of liver disease. Our results indicate that the incidence of cirrhosis is high in children with chronic hepatitis, especially of the autoimmune type, and that cirrhosis may occurearly, irrespective of cause. A combination of laparoscopy and biopsy is more reliable than biopsy alone for the diagnosis of cirrhosis in children with chronic hepatitis.