Acute Liver Failure

Acute Liver Failure

Acute liver failure is loss of liver function that occurs rapidly — in days or weeks —usually in a person who has no pre-existing liver disease. Acute liver failure is less common than chronic liver failure, which develops more slowly.

Acute liver failure, also known as fulminant hepatic failure, can cause serious complications, including excessive bleeding and increasing pressure in the brain. It’s a medical emergency that requires hospitalization.

Depending on the cause, acute liver failure can sometimes be reversed with treatment. In many situations, though, a liver transplant may be the only cure.

Symptoms of Acute Liver Failure

Signs and symptoms of acute liver failure may include:

Yellowing of your skin and eyeballs (jaundice)

Pain in your upper right abdomen

Abdominal swelling

Nausea

Vomiting

A general sense of feeling unwell (malaise)

Disorientation or confusion

Sleepiness

Causes of Acute Liver Failure

Acute liver failure occurs when liver cells are damaged significantly and are no longer able to function. Potential causes include:

Acetaminophen overdose. Taking too much acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the United States. Acute liver failure can occur after one very large dose of acetaminophen, or after higher than recommended doses every day for several days.

Prescription medications. Some prescription medications, including antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and anticonvulsants, can cause acute liver failure.

Herbal supplements. Herbal drugs and supplements, including kava, ephedra, skullcap and pennyroyal, have been linked to acute liver failure.

Hepatitis and other viruses. Hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis E can cause acute liver failure. Other viruses that can cause acute liver failure include Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus and herpes simplex virus.

Toxins. Toxins that can cause acute liver failure include the poisonous wild mushroom Amanita phalloides, which is sometimes mistaken for edible species.

Autoimmune disease. Liver failure can be caused by autoimmune hepatitis — a disease in which your immune system attacks liver cells, causing inflammation and injury.

Diseases of the veins in the liver. Vascular diseases, such as Budd-Chiari syndrome, can cause blockages in the veins of the liver, leading to acute liver failure.

Metabolic disease. Rare metabolic diseases, such as Wilson’s disease and acute fatty liver of pregnancy, infrequently cause acute liver failure.

Cancer. Cancer that either begins in or spreads to your liver can cause your liver to fail.

Many cases of acute liver failure have no apparent cause.

Tests and Diagnosis

Tests and procedures used to diagnose acute liver failure include:

Blood tests. Blood tests to determine how well your liver is functioning may include the prothrombin time test, which measures how long it takes your blood to clot. With acute liver failure, blood won’t clot as quickly as it should.

Imaging tests. Your doctor may recommend imaging tests, such as ultrasound, to evaluate your liver. Imaging tests may show liver damage and may help your doctor determine the cause of your liver problems.

Examination of liver tissue. Your doctor may recommend a procedure to remove a small piece of liver tissue (liver biopsy). Tests of the liver tissue may help your doctor understand why your liver is failing.

Because people with acute liver failure are at risk of bleeding during biopsy, the doctor may perform a transjugular liver biopsy. Through a tiny incision on the right side of your neck, your doctor passes a thin tube (catheter) into a large vein in your neck, through your heart and into a vein exiting your liver. Your doctor then inserts a needle down through the catheter and retrieves a sample of liver tissue.

Medications

People with acute liver failure are often treated in the intensive care unit of a hospital —and when possible, in a facility that can perform a liver transplant if necessary. Your doctor may try to treat the liver damage itself, but in many cases, treatment involves controlling complications and giving your liver time to heal.

Treatments for acute liver failure

Acute liver failure treatments may include:

Medications to reverse poisoning. Acute liver failure caused by acetaminophen overdose or mushroom poisoning is treated with drugs that can reverse the effects of the toxin and may reduce liver damage.

Liver transplant. When acute liver failure can’t be reversed, the only treatment may be a liver transplant. During a liver transplant, a surgeon removes your damaged liver and replaces it with a healthy liver from a donor.

Treatments for complications

Your doctor will work to control signs and symptoms you’re experiencing and try to prevent complications caused by acute liver failure. This care may include:

Relieving pressure caused by excess fluid in the brain. Cerebral edema caused by acute liver failure can increase pressure on your brain. Medications can help reduce the fluid buildup in your brain.

Screening for infections. Your medical team will take periodic samples of your blood and urine to be tested for infection. If your doctor suspects that you have an infection, you’ll receive medications to treat the infection.

Preventing severe bleeding. Your doctor can give you medications to reduce the risk of bleeding. If you lose a lot of blood, your doctor may perform tests to find the source of the blood loss, and you may require blood transfusions.

3 comments

Hairstyles

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