Acute Liver Failure; Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, & Prognosis

The liver is an internal organ; it lies on the right side of the abdomen, behind the lower ribs, and below the diaphragm.

It is responsible for many functions that you can’t live without them. It detoxifies your blood and clears your body from toxins and harmful substances. Also, the liver forms the bile, which eliminates your body from cholesterol.

Liver failure means that your liver doesn’t function well as before. It suggests severe damage (loss of 80-90% of liver cell function). Liver failure happens suddenly in weeks or even days without pre-existing liver disease. It often occurs after an overdose of drugs or poisoning.

You are at risk for acute liver failure if you:

  • Take so much acetaminophen
  • Have viral infections like hepatitis or herpes simplex virus
  • Have a disease like Wilson’s disease
  • Drink excess alcohol
  • Have any disease decreases blood supply to your liver

Clinical appearance of acute liver failure:

When you catch acute liver failure, you may have symptoms such as fever, fatigue, anorexia, loss of appetite, and diarrhea.

When the disease gets worse, the symptoms turn seriously to be aggressive.

Late symptoms include:

  • Jaundice: a yellowish color of skin and eyes
  • Fetor hepaticus: musty breath odor due to failure of hepatic detoxification of mercaptans
  • Ascites: accumulation of fluids in the abdomen
  • Hepatic encephalopathy: mental deterioration due to brain affection by ammonia

Possible complications of acute liver failure are:

  • Brain swelling
  • Mental Disturbances
  • Infection: bacterial and fungal sepsis
  • Blood vomiting
  • Low blood sugar
  • Kidney failure
  • Hepatic coma

How do doctors diagnose acute liver failure?

Liver failure is a life-threatening illness. So, you should seek your doctor as soon as possible if you have any of the previous symptoms.

Your doctor will obtain information from you to define the possible causes like a history of diseases, medications, or exposure to toxins.

You will also need:

  • Physical examination
  • Imaging as CT and MRI
  • Liver function tests as liver enzymes
  • Investigations for the cause as hepatitis markers
  • Check for complications as cerebral edema and encephalopathy

Treatment of acute liver failure depends on the underlying cause:

  • If acetaminophen toxicity, your doctor will give you an antidote to treat the drug toxicity.
  • If viral hepatitis, your doctor will treat you according to the type of hepatitis. For example, steroids have a role in the treatment of autoimmune hepatitis.
  • If the cause is unknown, a liver biopsy has an intensive benefit.
  • If the treatment has no benefit, the liver transplant is the hope.

How do you prevent catching acute liver failure?

  • Follow the directions on the label before intake.
  • Stop drinking alcohol
  • Vaccination against hepatitis A, B if you are at risk for hepatitis infection

Let’s discuss this topic in detail

What does acute liver failure mean, and what are the causes?

Acute liver failure means that your liver recently becomes unable to do its work within days or weeks. It needs immediate management. Acute liver failure is more common in developing countries than the developed countries.

Causes of acute liver failure include:

  • Taking too much acetaminophen and too many antibiotics without medical description will cause acute liver failure. Drug-induced liver injury is responsible for about 50% of acute liver failure in the United States.
  • Excess alcohol intake can damage your liver.
  • Viral infections as hepatitis and herpes simplex virus
  • Impaired liver blood supply, which occurs in patients with cardiac, respiratory, or renal failure
  • Neoplastic infiltration, acute Budd-Chiari syndrome, heatstroke, mushroom ingestion, and metabolic diseases as Wilson’s disease
  • Acute fatty liver in pregnancy
  • Unknown causes

Written by Martin Davis