Liver failure is a life-threatening condition that demands urgent medical care. Most often, liver failure 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.
What Causes Liver Failure?
The most common causes of chronic liver failure (where the liver fails over months to years) include:
Long-term alcohol consumption
Hemochromatosis (an inherited disorder that causes the body to absorb and store too much iron)
What Are the 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:
Loss of appetite
However, as liver failure progresses, the symptoms become more serious, requiring urgent care. These symptoms include:
Mental disorientation or confusion (known as hepatic encephalopathy)
How Is Liver Failure Treated?
If detected early enough, acute liver failure caused by an overdose of acetaminophen can sometimes be treated and its effects reversed. Likewise, if a virus causes liver failure, supportive care can be given at a hospital to treat the symptoms until the virus runs its course. In these cases, the liver will sometimes recover on its own.
For liver failure that is the result of long-term deterioration, the initial treatment goal may be to save whatever part of the liver is still functioning. If this is not possible, then a liver transplant is required. Fortunately, liver transplant is a common procedure that is often successful.