Acute Liver Failure

1 What is Acute Liver Failure?

Acute liver failure, or acute hepatic failure, refers to the rapid loss of liver function.

Loss of function may happen over a period of few weeks or within a few hours. Although this condition is less common when compared to chronic liver failure, it can still lead to a number of fatal complications.

Acute liver failure may lead to increased pressure within the brain and excessive bleeding.

Treatment of liver failure is based on the cause of the condition and liver transplant is suggested in some cases for resolving the symptoms.

2 Symptoms

The earliest symptoms of acute liver failure resemble that of many other conditions, making diagnosis difficult.

These symptoms include nausea, weakness, loss of appetite and diarrhea.

As the condition progresses, more symptoms that require medical attention start appearing. These include jaundice, bleeding, swelling in the abdomen, confusion, sleepiness, and coma.

Acute liver failure that develops rapidly is life-threatening and needs to be treated without further delay.

3 Causes

There are a number of causes that lead to acute liver failure. They include:

  • Viruses – hepatitis A, B and E infections are associated with liver failure. Other viral infections like the Epstein Barr virus, herpes and cytomegalovirus also lead to acute hepatic failure.
  • Medications – certain medications like antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and anti-convulsants may cause liver failure. Overdose of acetaminophen is the most common cause of liver failure.
  • Toxins – toxins from certain species of mushrooms, like Amanita phalloides, lead to liver damage.
  • Herbal medications and supplements – many herbal supplements like kava, pennyroyal, and ephedra are associated with liver damage.
  • Medical conditions – metabolic diseases like fatty liver and Wilson’s disease are also linked to reduced function of the liver.
  • Cancer – cancer that spreads to the liver may lead to liver failure.
  • Autoimmune diseases – this can cause the immune system to attack liver cells and result in acute damage

Some types of liver failure may not have any apparent cause.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Diagnostic measures used for acute liver failure depend on the underlying cause of the disease.

The blood prothrombin level indicates the clotting time of blood, indirectly showing the functioning of liver.

Blood tests may also be conducted to test for antibodies of the hepatitis virus, drug concentrations in blood, eosinophil count, platelet count, or serum transaminases.

These indicators of the disease confirm failure of liver.

Imaging techniques like ultrasound may be used to check for the extent of damage to the organ. This method is useful in fatty livers and also if the cause of the disease is malignancy.

Occasionally, a liver biopsy is suggested to rule out the other causes of the disease. For this, a liver sample is removed through a small incision in the liver.

5 Treatment

Treatment of acute liver failure is based on the cause of the disease.

If a drug overdose is the actual cause of the disease, treatment to reverse the poisoning and heal the organ is recommended.

If the liver damage is acute and cannot be reversed, liver transplant is considered.

Liver failure can lead to complications like increased pressure in the brain, excessive bleeding, and infections.

Further treatment focuses on relieving the symptoms and controlling complications.

6 Prevention

Taking your recommended dosage of medication is the best way to prevent Acute liver failure due to overdose.

Certain herbal medications and supplements can cause liver damage and hence, a doctor should be informed of these, if you are taking any. This will prevent any interactions with prescription medications given.

Lifestyle prevention

Alcohol consumption is a common cause for liver damage. Limiting the amount of alcohol helps to prevent liver damage.

Vaccinations for hepatitis gives protection again acute liver failure by preventing the infection.

Avoiding risky behavior like unprotected sex and sharing needles while taking drugs prevents hepatitis, and thus, liver damage.

Protect yourself from toxins like pesticides, fungicides, or any other harmful chemicals.

Maintaining optimal body weight prevents fatty liver and liver damage.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

There are several alternative and homeopathic remedies used for Acute Liver Failure.

A diet including more liver-friendly foods helps to control liver damage.

This includes ginger root, sweet potato, raw vegetables, milk thistle, and dandelion root.

Vitamin E, black seed oil, and turmeric are considered to be natural remedies for liver failure. Adding plant sterols and sterolins is also an alternate method.

Phosphorous, Hepar sulph, and Medorrhinum are used for controlling liver abscesses with homeopathic treatments.

Opium 1m and/or Nux vomica 30c is recommended for liver damage caused by certain medications.

8 Lifestyle and Coping

There are different ways to adapt your lifestyle in coping with Acute liver failure .

Prognosis of acute liver failure treatment depends on the underlying cause of the disease.

Hospitalization is required and in some cases liver transplant is recommended.

In any case, having a good support system of family and friends is needed to cope with the situation.

Being compliant with the medications and maintaining a healthy diet are also very important.

9 Risks and Complications

Infections are the most common complication of acute liver failure.

Other complications

Fluid retention in the brain may lead to increased pressure within the organ.

Excessive bleeding can occur and requires immediate medical attention.

Liver transplantation may result in bleeding, sepsis, kidney injury, or respiratory failure.

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