Liver Failure

What is Liver Failure?

Liver Failure is severe deterioration of liver function. Liver Failure occurs when a large portion of the liver is damaged beyond repair due to any type of liver disorder, leaving the liver unable to function any longer. Liver Failure is a potentially life-threatening condition and requires immediate medical care. In most cases Liver Failure occurs gradually and over a period of many years. However, a more rare condition known as acute Liver Failure occurs rapidly (in as little as 48 hours) and can be difficult to detect initially.

What are the different symptoms of Liver Failure?

The initial symptoms of liver failure are often ones that can be due to any number or conditions. Because of this, liver failure may be initially difficult to diagnose. Early symptoms include:

  • Nausea.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Fatigue.
  • Diarrhea.

The symptoms take a turn for the worse as Liver Failure progresses and require prompt medical attention. These symptoms include:

  • Jaundice.
  • Bleeding easily.
  • Swollen abdomen.
  • Mental disorientation or confusion (known as Hepatic Encephalopathy).
  • Sleepiness.
  • Coma.

What are the causes of Liver Failure?

There are several causes for liver failure. The most common causes of chronic liver failure (where the liver fails over months to years) include:

  • Hepatitis B.
  • Hepatitis C.
  • Long term alcohol consumption.
  • Cirrhosis.
  • Hemochromatosis (an inherited disorder that causes the body to absorb and store too much iron).
  • Malnutrition.
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdose.
  • Viruses including Hepatitis A, B, and C (especially in children).
  • Reactions to certain prescription and herbal medications.
  • Ingestion of poisonous wild mushrooms.

Can Liver Failure be treated?

Treatment options depend on the cause. If detected early enough, acute liver failure caused by an overdose of acetaminophen can sometimes be treated and its effects reversed. In a similar manner, if the liver failure is due to a virus, supportive care can be effectively provided in a hospital until the virus runs its course. In both these cases the liver will sometimes recover on its own.

If liver failure is the result of long-term deterioration, the initial focus may be on saving whatever part of the liver is still functioning. If saving part of the liver is not viable, the only other treatment option is a liver transplant. With medical progress, liver transplants are common procedures that have considerable success rate.

Can Liver Failure be prevented?

Even though some liver diseases are impossible to prevent, there are many strategies that people can adopt to protect their livers, maximize their health and limit the risk of developing Cirrhosis or Hepatitis.

  • Schedule a hepatitis vaccine or an immunoglobulin shot to prevent Hepatitis A or B.
  • Eat nutritious, well-balanced meals comprising of all food groups.
  • Consume alcohol only in moderation and eliminate it altogether if you already have a liver disease.
  • Abstain from alcohol when you are taking acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • Don’t handle any blood or blood products.
  • Never share any personal toiletry items, including toothbrushes and razors.
  • If you want to get a tattoo or a body piercing, ensure that the conditions are sanitary and all equipment are sterilized.
  • Be sure to use protection (condoms) when having sex.
  • Don’t share needles with anyone.

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