What is acute liver failure?

Acute Liver Failure

What are the symptoms of acute liver failure?

Symptoms of acute liver failure may include:

  • Yellow color of the skin and the white part of the eyes. (This is called jaundice).
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Pain in the upper right belly.
  • Feeling tired.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Itching.
  • Fever.
  • Dark-colored stools.
  • Fluid buildup in the belly, legs, and arms.
  • Easy bruising.
  • Changes in behavior, confusion, slurred speech, and hand tremors.

Symptoms can suddenly become severe and life-threatening.

How is acute liver failure treated?

The main treatment for acute liver failure is supportive care. This includes managing your body’s fluids and controlling your bleeding risk. If you took too much acetaminophen, your doctor may treat you with medicines. In some severe cases, a liver transplant may be an option.

How is acute liver failure diagnosed?

Your doctor will check for jaundice and swelling and pain in your liver. You will have blood tests to see how well your liver is working. Blood tests measure blood-clotting factors, proteins, and other substances. If needed, you may have imaging tests, such as ultrasound, CT scans, and MRI scans of your belly.

What causes acute liver failure?

The most common causes of acute liver failure are:

Taking too much acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Many over-the-counter medicines contain acetaminophen. It's easy to accidentally take more than one of these medicines together when you have a cold or a headache. Or you may take too much acetaminophen when the regular dose doesn't seem to work.
Viral hepatitis.
Hepatitis is a virus that can damage the liver.

Other causes of acute liver failure include:

  • Alcoholic liver disease.
  • Blood diseases or problems with blood flow to the liver.
  • Reactions to medicines such as antibiotics and NSAIDs.
  • Wilson's disease.
  • Some herbal medicines and dietary supplements.
  • Poisoning from eating certain mushrooms.

What is acute liver failure?

Acute liver failure is sudden damage to the liver that keeps it from working as it should and may be life-threatening. The illness may develop in days to weeks. How long it takes depends on its cause.

A healthy liver removes toxins from the blood. It makes substances that help blood clot. It also helps your body use nutrients from the food you eat.

A damaged liver allows toxins to build up in your blood. The toxins may cause confusion, slurred speech, and tremors. This is called hepatic encephalopathy (say "hip-PAT-ik in-sef-uh-LAW-puh-thee"). Your liver may also stop making blood clotting factors and certain proteins in your blood. This can lead to serious bleeding and a buildup of fluids in the belly (ascites) and legs.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

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