What is Acute Liver Failure?

Acute Liver Failure is a rare condition. It is the rapid loss of liver function that occurs in days or weeks. This condition may not necessarily occur in those who have a pre-existing liver condition. Acute Liver Failure is not as common as Chronic Liver Failure.

Acute Liver Failure can cause serious complications such as excessive bleeding and increasing pressure on the brain. As Acute Liver Failure is a medical emergency, it requires hospitalization. In many situations, a liver transplant may be the only for Acute Liver Failure.

What are the signs and symptoms of Acute Liver Failure?

Some of the signs and symptoms of acute liver failure are:

  • Jaundice- yellowing of the skin and eyeballs
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Sleepiness
  • Pain in the upper abdomen
  • Confusion and disorientation

What are the complications of Liver Failure?

Some of the complications of liver failure are:

  • Cerebral Edema: This is the condition of excessive fluid in the brain which can build up pressure in the brain.
  • Bleeding: Due to the failure, the liver can is unable to make enough clotting factors which helps in blood clotting. This condition may be difficult to control.
  • Infections: Those with acute liver failure are more susceptible to infections mostly in the blood, respiratory and urinary tracts.
  • Kidney Failure: If one has an acetaminophen overdose along with liver failure, it can damage the kidneys along with the liver.

What is the diagnosis of Acute Liver Failure?

Some of the tests and procedures of Acute Liver Failure include:

  • Blood Tests: Blood tests play a key role in determining how well the liver works. A test called prothrombin time test measures the time taken for the blood to clot. In acute liver failure, the blood doesn’t clot as easily as it otherwise should.
  • Imaging Tests: The doctor may ask for an ultrasound test to look at the liver. The test helps to understand the liver damage and the cause for the same. The doctor can also recommend a CT scan or an MRI to look at the liver and blood vessels.
  • Examining Liver Tissue: A doctor may conduct a liver biopsy which is the removal of a small piece of tissue. This helps the doctor to understand the reason for liver failure. The doctor may also perform a transjugular liver biopsy to avoid the risk of bleeding.

What are the treatment options for Acute Liver Failure?

Those with Acute Liver Failure are more commonly treated in the intensive care unit of a medical facility. Some of the treatments include:

Liver Transplant

When the acute liver failure can't be reversed through medication, the patient may require a liver transplant. In a liver transplant, the surgeon removes the damaged liver with a healthy liver from a deceased donor, or parts of a healthy liver from a living donor.

Sometimes acute liver failure can be caused due to acetaminophen overdose. This can be treated with acetylcysteine medication. This medication is also used to treat other causes of acute liver failure. Mushroom poisoning and other types of poisoning can also be treated with medicinal drugs.

To control the signs and symptoms of acute liver failure, the doctor may prevent those complications through screening for Infections, preventing severe bleeding and relieving pressure caused by excessive fluid in the brain.

What are the causes of Acute Liver Failure?
  • Prescription medicines: Some medicines such as antibiotics, anticonvulsants, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can cause acute liver failure.
  • Herbal Supplements: Some herbal supplements such as skullcap, kava have been linked to acute liver failure.
  • Acetaminophen Overdose: The most common cause of acute liver failure is the overconsumption of acetaminophen. Taking higher than recommended doses of acetaminophen every day can cause acute liver failure.
  • Toxins: Toxins such as poisonous wild mushrooms can cause acute liver failure.
  • Hepatitis: Hepatitis A, B, and E can cause acute liver failure. Some other viruses such as herpes simplex virus can also cause this failure.
  • Autoimmune Disease: Autoimmune disease is a disease in which the immune system attacks the liver cell which can cause injury and inflammation.
  • Metabolic Diseases: Rare metabolic diseases can also cause acute liver failure infrequently.
  • Cancer: Cancer in the liver or spreading to the liver from other parts of the body can cause acute liver failure.
  • Shock: Sepsis and shock can impair blood flow to the liver causing liver failure.
  • Drink Alcohol in moderation: Those who drink alcohol should limit it to one drink in case of women of all ages and men older than 65. Younger men should limit it to two drinks in a day.
  • Follow instructions on medicines: It is very important to check the package of medicines for the recommended dosage. Especially in the case of liver disease, it is always better to ask the doctor if it is safe to take any kind of medicine.
  • Avoid any risky behavior: It is important to stop the use of any intravenous drugs. One should not share needles and use condoms during sexual activity.
  • Vaccination: Those with chronic liver disease or a history of hepatitis infection should get a vaccination for hepatitis.
  • Avoid contact with blood and fluids of others: If the needles are not clean, it can cause the spread of hepatitis viruses. Sharing the same razor blades and toothbrushes can also spread infection.
  • Avoid wild mushrooms: As it is difficult to tell the difference between a safe and wild mushroom, one should avoid eating it.
  • Take care of skin: When using toxic chemicals, always cover the skin and face with sleeves and a mask.
  • Healthy Weight: It is important to maintain a healthy weight as obesity can cause nonalcoholic fatty liver disease leading to cirrhosis.