What is liver failure?
Liver failure or cirrhosis is a condition when large parts of the liver become damaged beyond repair and the liver is no longer able to function. Liver failure is a life-threatening condition that demands urgent medical care. Liver failure often occurs gradually and over 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.
How common is liver failure?
It is more likely to affect men than women. However, it can be managed by reducing your risk factors.
Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of liver failure?
The symptoms of liver failure vary with the stage of the illness. In the beginning stages, there may not be any symptoms and it is completely difficult to diagnose. As the disease worsens, symptoms may include:
- Lack of energy (fatigue), which may be debilitating
- Bleeding easily
- Bruising easily
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss or sudden weight gain
- Yellowing of skin or the whites of eyes (jaundice)
- Itchy skin
- Fluid retention (edema) and swelling in the ankles, legs, and abdomen (often an early sign)
- A brownish or orange tint to the urine
- Light colored stools
- Confusion, disorientation, personality changes
- Blood in the stool
- Spiderlike blood vessels on your skin
- Breast enlargement in men.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes liver failure?
Hepatitis C, fatty liver, and alcohol abuse are the most common causes of liver failure, but anything that damages the liver can cause liver failure, including:
- Fatty liver associated with obesity and diabetes
- Chronic viral infections of the liver (hepatitis types B, C, and D; Hepatitis D is extremely rare)
- Repeated bouts of heart failure with fluid backing up into the liver
- Blockage of the bile duct, which carries bile formed in the liver to the intestines, where it helps in the digestion of fats. In adults, bile ducts may become inflamed, blocked, or scarred, due to another liver disease called primary biliary cholangitis.
- Certain inherited diseases such as:
- Cystic fibrosis
- Glycogen storage diseases, in which the body is unable to process glycogen, a form of sugar that is converted to glucose and serves as a source of energy for the body
- Alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency, an absence of a specific enzyme in the liver
- Diseases caused by abnormal liver function, such as hemochromatosis, a condition in which excessive iron is absorbed and deposited into the liver and other organs, and Wilson’s disease, caused by the abnormal storage of copper in the liver
Although less likely, other causes of cirrhosis include reactions to prescription drugs, prolonged exposure to environmental toxins, or parasitic infections.
What increases my risk for liver failure?
There are many risk factors for liver failure, such as:
- Alcohol-related liver disease is due to excessive consumption and is the most common preventable cause of liver disease.
- Hepatitis B is a viral infection most often spread through the exchange of bodily fluids (for example, unprotected sexual intercourse, sharing unsterilized drug injecting equipment, using non-sterilized equipment for tattoos or body piercing).
- The hereditary liver disease can be passed genetically from generation to generation.
- Chemical exposure may damage the liver by irritating the liver cells resulting in inflammation (hepatitis), reducing bile flow through the liver (cholestasis) and accumulation of triglycerides (steatosis). Chemicals such as anabolic steroids, vinyl chloride, and carbon tetrachloride can cause liver cancers.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdose is a common cause of liver failure.
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is liver failure diagnosed?
Liver failure can be diagnosed through some several methods:
- Physical exam
During a physical exam, your doctor can observe changes in how your liver feels or how large it is.
- Blood tests
If your doctor suspects cirrhosis, you will be given blood tests to find out if liver disease is present.
- Other tests
In some cases, other tests that take pictures of the liver are performed, such as a computerized tomography (CT scan), ultrasound, or another specialized procedure called a radioisotope liver/spleen scan.
Your doctor may decide to confirm the diagnosis by taking a sample of tissue (biopsy) from the liver.
In some cases, cirrhosis is diagnosed during surgery when the doctor is able to see the entire liver. The liver also can be inspected through a laparoscope, a viewing device that is inserted through a tiny incision in the abdomen.
How is liver failure treated?
Although there is no certain cure for liver failure, there are some treatments available that can stop or delay its progress, minimize the damage to liver cells, and reduce complications.
The treatment used depends on the cause of cirrhosis of the liver.
- For cirrhosis caused by alcohol abuse, the person must stop drinking alcohol to halt the progression of cirrhosis.
- If a person has hepatitis, the doctor may prescribe steroids or antiviral drugs to reduce liver cell injury.
- For people with cirrhosis caused by autoimmune diseases, Wilson’s disease, or hemochromatosis, the treatment varies.
- Medications may be given to control the symptoms of cirrhosis. Edema (fluid retention) and ascites (fluid in the abdomen) are treated, in part, by reducing salt in the diet. Drugs called diuretics are used to remove excess fluid and to prevent edema from recurring. Diet and drug therapies can help improve the altered mental function that cirrhosis can cause. Laxatives such as lactulose may be given to help absorb toxins and speed their removal from the intestines.
- Finally, liver transplantation may be needed for some people with severe cirrhosis.
Lifestyle changes &home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage liver failure?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with this condition:
- Avoiding alcohol addiction. Try to eliminate how much you drink and how often. If you drink more than 2 drinks a day, you are increasing your risk. A drink is a 5-oz glass of wine, a 12-oz can of beer, or a 1 1/2-oz portion of hard liquor.
Avoid high-risk sexual behavior such as unprotected sexual contact with multiple partners.
- Be careful around synthetic chemicals, such as cleaning products and pesticides. If you often contact with chemicals, wear protective clothing and a facemask to protect yourself from these dangerous substances.
- Get vaccinated against hepatitis B.
- Eat a well-balanced, low-fat diet high in fruits and vegetables and take vitamins.
- Maintain a healthy weight, because excess body fat can cause fatty liver, which may lead to liver disease.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: December 16, 2016 | Last Modified: December 4, 2019
Liver failure. http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/cirrhosis-liver. Accessed November 03, 2016.
Liver failure. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/liver-disease/cirrhosis/Pages/facts.aspx. Accessed November 03, 2016.
Liver failure. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cirrhosis/symptoms-causes/dxc-20187350. Accessed November 03, 2016.