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Liver Failure 

Liver failure is a serious condition that happens when your liver can’t work well enough to perform its many vital functions, such as producing bile to help you digest food and clearing your blood of toxic substances.  

Liver failure can be subdivided into two categories: 

  • Acute liver failure – Loss of liver function that occurs rapidly 
  • Chronic liver failure – A progressive deterioration of the liver 

Causes of Liver Failure 

Acute liver failure comes on quickly. It can be caused by a variety of things, although in some cases, the exact cause may be unknown. Some possible causes include: 

  • Overdose of acetaminophen (Tylenol) 
  • Exposure to toxins 
  • Infection by a virus like hepatitis A, B or (more rarely) C 
  • Certain genetic disorders 
  • Cancer that begins in or spreads to the liver
  • Vascular diseases that affect the veins in the liver 
  • Metabolic diseases 

Chronic liver failure occurs due to liver damage that develops slowly over time. Some possible causes include: 

  • Hepatitis and other viruses 
  • Chronic alcohol abuse 
  • Fatty liver disease 
  • Autoimmune disorders 
  • Blocked or damaged tubes (bile ducts) that carry bile from the liver to the intestine 
  • Certain medications 
  • Exposure to toxins 
  • Genetic or inherited diseases 

Symptoms of Liver Failure 

Acute liver failure often occurs in people who don’t have a preexisting liver condition, which can make it difficult to identify. Symptoms can include: 

  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice) 
  • Ascites, or the accumulation of fluid in the abdomen 
  • Edema, or the accumulation of fluid in the legs and ankles 
  • Encephalitis, or the swelling and irritation of the brain 
  • Easy bruising 
  • Dark-colored urine 
  • Light-colored bowel movements 

A few of the most common symptoms of chronic liver failure include: 

  • Loss of appetite that can lead to weight loss 
  • Fatigue  
  • Vomiting up blood 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Muscle loss 
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice) 
  • Tendency to bruise easily 

Diagnosis for Liver Failure 

To diagnose liver failure, doctors will review a patient’s medical history and perform a physical examination. They may then perform a variety of additional tests, including: 

  • Blood tests 
  • Imaging tests such as ultrasound, CT scan or MRI  
  • Biopsy of the liver 

Treatment of Liver Failure 

Since damage to the liver can lead to liver failure, treatment generally involves addressing what’s causing liver damage to occur. Certain medications or lifestyle modifications may be recommended. In more severe cases of liver failure, surgery or a liver transplant may be necessary.