Liver failure occurs when the liver’s function is insufficient (for example, to produce bile and remove toxic substances from the body). Symptoms include nausea, loss of appetite, and blood in the stool. Treatment involves avoiding alcohol and certain foods.
What is liver failure?
The liver performs many important functions, including:
Produces blood proteins that help blood clot, transport oxygen, and support the immune system
The production of bile is a necessary substance for digestion
Helps the body store sugar (glucose) in the form of glycogen
Removal of toxic substances from the blood, including drugs and alcohol
Breaks down saturated fat and creates cholesterol
Liver failure occurs when your liver is not working well enough to perform these tasks. Liver failure can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.
How common is liver disease?
Approximately 30 million people in the United States have some form of liver disease. In 2017, more than 8,000 people received a liver transplant in the United States, and more than 17,000 people are waiting for a liver transplant.
Symptoms and causes
What are the causes of liver failure?
Hepatitis B and C, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, excessive alcohol consumption, and hemochromatosis can lead to liver failure.
In most cases, chronic liver failure is caused by cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver caused by long-term alcohol abuse or chronic liver infection. As scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue, the liver loses its ability to function.
Acute liver failure usually occurs due to the following reasons.
Viral infections, such as hepatitis B.
Overuse of certain drugs and toxins, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®), other drugs (such as certain antibiotics, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, artificial hormones, antifungals), and herbs (green tea extract, kava).
Metabolic (biological) or vascular (fluid-carrying vessels such as arteries) disorders, such as Wilson’s disease or autoimmune hepatitis.
What are the symptoms of liver failure?
Liver failure can take years to develop. Symptoms of liver failure often look like symptoms of other diseases, which makes it difficult to diagnose in the early stages. As your liver weakens, your symptoms get worse.
Chronic liver failure or liver failure that has been going on for years can cause:
Loss of appetite
Blood in the stool
As liver failure progresses, symptoms become more severe. In the late stages, symptoms of liver failure may appear:
Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
Confusion (confusion, uncertainty)
Fluid accumulation in the abdomen and extremities (arms and legs)
Sometimes the liver fails suddenly and is called acute liver failure. People with acute liver failure may experience the following symptoms.
Changes in mental status
Musty or sweet smell
Loss of appetite
DIAGNOSIS AND ANALYSIS
How is liver failure diagnosed?
Your doctor will diagnose liver failure based on your symptoms, medical history, and test results (blood tests, urinalysis, and abdominal imaging).
MANAGEMENT AND TREATMENT
How is liver failure treated?
Liver disease and liver failure are often treated by specialists called hepatologists.
Treatment of liver failure depends on whether it is acute or chronic. Treatment of chronic liver failure involves changes in diet and lifestyle, including:
Avoid alcohol and drugs that harm the liver
Eating less of certain foods such as red meat, cheese, and eggs
Control metabolic risk factors such as weight loss, high blood pressure, and diabetes
Reduce the amount of salt in the diet (do not add salt to food)
Treatment of acute (sudden) liver failure includes:
Intravenous (IV) fluids to maintain blood pressure;
Medications to help expel toxins (toxins), laxatives, enemas, etc.;