What is Acute Liver Failure?

Acute liver failure is a stage when liver comes to lose its working ability in a very short span of time, such as in days or weeks. However, liver deterioration conditions take some course of time to develop but the acute liver condition can be seen in a duration of few days. This medical condition can be recognized by its various complications such as augmented brain pressure and excess bleeding, which is a medical emergency and requires hospitalization. Acute liver failure is also known as fulminant hepatic failure (FHF).

The condition of acute liver failure is of reversible nature and can be reversed if followed by proper treatment. Sometimes this can be also be cured through liver transplant process which would be its last method to treat or cure.

What is Acute Liver Failure?

Can Acute Liver Failure Lead to Death?

If not diagnosed and treated in time yes acute liver failure may lead to death.

Causes of Acute Liver Failure

There may be one or multiple reasons behind the persisting medical condition of acute liver failure. Some foremost and common causes of acute liver failure can be enumerated as:

  • Drug/acetaminophen overdose is a common cause of acute liver failure. There are various types of drugs which contain more or less amount of hazardous nature to the liver. Acetaminophen is one amid of those which usually comes into diagnosis as the reason for liver failure. Acute liver failure condition can occur when one takes a higher dose of any medicine containing acetaminophen as one of its salt, consistently for many days.
  • Metabolic diseases can cause acute liver failure. Acute fatty liver during pregnancy and Wilson's disease belongs to the category of rare metabolic diseases which may lead towards acute liver failure.
  • There are various viruses which may results or augments drastically in the form of acute liver failure. Hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis E are most common sort of viruses in this list along with Epstein-Barr, herpes, and cytomegalovirus as well.
  • Autoimmune disease can cause acute liver failure. Under this kind of disorder immune system of a patient itself attacks the liver cells and results in the form of injury and inflammation. It is also one of the well-known causes of acute liver failure conditions.
  • Some prescription drugs such as antibiotics, narcotic, anticonvulsants, non-steroidal and anti-inflammatory drugs overdose or wrongful intake may also cause acute liver failure.
  • Many a times patient may have consumed toxic ingredients such as wild mushroom mistakenly considering it good as edible spices.
  • Cancer which may be originated in the liver itself or spreads to the liver from some other part of the body, often from gall bladder, also results in acute liver failure.
  • Consuming heavy alcohol on regular basis may also result in acute liver failure. Though this process goes through several stages and takes the time to reach acute liver failure but it is one of the most common reasons behind it.

Having unhealthy or bad food habits may also lead conditions towards acute liver failure as well. Junk food, fatty food, and oily food consumption may reach this stage of acute liver failure over the period of time.

Acute Liver Failure and Alcohol

Acute liver failure due to alcohol is very much possible, though it is not instant and can take a bit longer duration of time to appear. The liver breaks down the alcohol in such as way that it can be easily removed from the body. In case the alcohol consumption is greater than what can be processed by the liver, it may lead towards damaging liver tissues and results into liver failure over the period of time.

Symptoms of Acute Liver Failure

Identifying this fatal ailment in its preliminary stage would help the patient to recover from it more efficiently. In this way, there are certain signs of these medical conditions, appearing to which one should go through a thorough medical check. These symptoms of acute liver failure can be enumerated as:

  • Abdominal swelling is a primary symptom of acute liver failure.
  • Yellowing of eyeballs and skin, i.e., Jaundice.
  • Vomiting.
  • Nausea.
  • Pain in the upper right part of abdomen.
  • Confusion or disorientation.
  • Sleepiness.
  • A general feeling of being unwell, i.e., malaise.

It is very much possible for anyone to have this medical condition, even healthy people can also fall into the trap of this health ailment, which is fatal in nature. In case any of the above conditions, especially yellowing of skin and eyeballs occurs to anyone, he/she must go to see the doctor without delaying it anymore.

Tests to Diagnose Acute Liver Failure

There are various types of clinical procedures which can be used to confirm the conditions of acute liver failure. Some of the primary tests can be listed as:

  • Blood is taken to perform liver function test (LFT) which depicts the exact condition of the liver functioning of a patient. It may also include prothrombin time test, which is intended to test the blood clotting time, as in acute liver failure conditions duration of blood clotting may not as quick as it has to be.
  • Tissue examination is a clinical procedure is also known as a liver biopsy, where doctors remove a tiny part of liver tissue for its clinical evaluation. It helps in knowing the reason of liver failing.
  • Many a time patients with acute liver failure are at greater risk of unstoppable bleeding through their GI or Gastrointestinal tract. In this case, doctors do not go through the biopsy procedure to take tissues of the liver. Instead of biopsy they prefer transjugular biopsy which is done by making a small incision on the right side of the neck and passing a catheter (thin tube) via large vein of the neck. This tube passes through a heart and reaches to the liver, where examiner puts a needle through this catheter down to liver and takes a tissue with the help of this needle for clinical examination.
  • In ultrasound/imaging procedure for diagnosing acute liver failure, doctors use to obtain an exact picture of your liver and can know how much damage had been already done to the liver. The real time pictures of the liver can also help them knowing the current condition of the organ.

Treatment for Acute Liver Failure

Treatment for acute liver failure are of critical nature and hence, taken care in intensive care unit of the hospital. There are not many ways to treat this disorder but just a couple of methods can resort in this regard. One is controlling the complications and let the liver heal by the time passes, followed by proper medication to control the poisoning of the liver and another is a liver transplant, which is the last method to do something in this condition. This is only done when liver poisoning could not be controlled by the drug and preventive measures. Surgery for treating acute liver failure requires donor who can give a part of their healthy liver to the patient.

Recovery Period/Healing Time for Acute Liver Failure

The healing time or recovery period for acute liver failure depends on many factors which have caused the illness. If Acetaminophen usage is the cause then with proper treatment the recovery time would be 2 weeks.

Prevention of Acute Liver Failure

Below are the methods to prevent acute liver failure:

  • There are certain medicines such as acetaminophen or others, be careful while taking these medicines as overdose can cause acute liver failure. Take them if they are really necessary.
  • Inform your doctor about the medicines which you are taking to prevent acute liver failure.
  • If possible avoid consumption of alcohol to prevent acute liver failure.
  • Get vaccinated if you are if you have a risk of getting hepatitis.
  • Maintain healthy weight and cease smoking to prevent acute liver failure.

Complications of Acute Liver Failure

There are various complications which may be experienced by the patient while having this medical condition. Some of the foremost complications of acute liver failure can be listed as:

  • Bleeding/bleeding disorder- a deteriorating liver condition may show up clotting aspect as well. Patients often found with bleeding through their gastrointestinal (GI) tract which may be intricate to control.
  • Renal failure is a complication of acute liver failure. The condition of live failure often follows the condition of kidney or renal failure as well. In the case of acetaminophen overdose, liver and kidneys both get affected severely, causing failure to both of them.
  • Another complication of acute liver failure is cerebral edema. Under this condition, an excess amount of fluid starts causing pressure into the brain area resulting in displacing and damaging brain tissues. It is also known as the herniation. It can also run your brain out of oxygen supply.
  • Infection is also a possible complication. Patients going through acute liver failure conditions are very much susceptible towards facing various infections particularly in the urinary tracts, respiratory and blood.

Prognosis/Outlook for Acute Liver Failure

The outlook or prognosis for patients of acute liver failure who are not diagnosed in time is not good and they need liver transplant but if the acute liver failure has occurred because of acetaminophen or other drug usage then the prognosis is good.

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Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: April 28, 2017

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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