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    Filter Diseases & Condition

    Acute liver failure

    • Overview


      Sudden loss of liver function, known as acute liver failure or fulminant hepatic failure, can occur within days or weeks in individuals without pre-existing liver disease. Common causes include hepatitis viruses or drugs such as acetaminophen. Although less common than chronic liver failure, it can lead to severe complications such as bleeding and increased brain pressure and requires immediate medical attention and hospitalisation. Treatment may reverse the condition depending on the underlying cause, but in many cases, a liver transplant is necessary for a complete cure.

    • Symptoms


      Signs and symptoms of acute liver failure may include:
      Yellowing of your skin and eyeballs (jaundice)
      Pain in your upper right abdomen
      A swollen belly (ascites)
      A general sense of feeling unwell (malaise)
      Disorientation or confusion
      The breath may have a musty or sweet odour

    • When to see a doctor


      It is essential to be aware that acute liver failure can occur suddenly, even in individuals who are generally healthy. This condition can be severe and potentially life-threatening. If you or someone you know experiences sudden yellowing of the eyes or skin, tenderness in the upper abdomen, or any unusual changes in mental state, personality or behaviour, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention.

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    • Causes


      Acute liver failure occurs when liver cells are damaged significantly and can no longer 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. Outside of the United States, acetaminophen is known as paracetamol. Acute liver failure can occur after one huge dose of acetaminophen or after higher-than-recommended doses every day for several days.
      If you or someone you know has overdosed on acetaminophen, seek medical attention as quickly as possible. Treatment may prevent liver failure. Don’t wait for the signs of liver failure.
      Prescription medications. Some prescription medications, including antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and anticonvulsants, can cause acute liver failure.
      Herbal supplements. Herbal drugs and accessories, 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, sometimes mistaken for one that is safe to eat. Carbon tetrachloride is another toxin that can cause acute liver failure. It is an industrial chemical found in refrigerants and solvents for waxes, varnishes and other materials.
      Autoimmune disease. Liver failure can be caused by autoimmune hepatitis — a condition in which your immune system attacks liver cells, causing inflammation and injury.
      Diseases of the veins in the liver. Vascular disorders, such as Budd-Chiari syndrome, can cause blockages in the veins of the liver and lead to acute liver failure.
      Metabolic disease. Rare metabolic disorders, 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.
      Shock. Overwhelming infection (sepsis) and shock can severely reduce blood flow to the liver, causing liver failure.
      Heat stroke. Extreme physical activity in a hot environment can trigger acute liver failure.

      Some cases of acute liver failure have no apparent cause.

    • Risk factors



    • Prevention


      Reduce your risk of acute liver failure by taking care of your liver.
      Follow instructions on medications. If you take acetaminophen or other drugs, check the package insert for the recommended dosage, and don’t take more than that. If you already have liver disease, ask your healthcare provider if taking any amount of acetaminophen is safe.
      Tell your provider about all your medicines. Even over-the-counter and herbal medicines can interfere with your prescription drugs.
      Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink daily for women and two for men.
      Avoid risky behaviour. Get help if you use illicit intravenous drugs. Don’t share needles. Use condoms during sex. If you get tattoos or body piercings, make sure the shop you choose is clean and safe. Don’t smoke.
      Get vaccinated. If you have chronic liver disease, a history of hepatitis infection or an increased risk of hepatitis, talk to your provider about getting the hepatitis B vaccine. A vaccine also is available for hepatitis A.
      Avoid contact with other people’s blood and body fluids. Accidental needle sticks or improper blood or body fluids cleanup can spread hepatitis viruses. Sharing razor blades or toothbrushes also can spread infection.

    • *Please note that the information provided in the article is for reference purposes only. It is essential to consult a doctor before applying any of the suggestions mentioned.

    Content Details

    Medical info from Mayo Clinic, for reference only. Visit Hoan My for better advice.

    Last updated on: 07/08/2023