Liver failure: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Liver failure
Classification and external resources
ICD-10 K72.9
ICD-9 570
DiseasesDB 5728
eMedicine med/990
MeSH D017093

Liver failure is the inability of the liver to perform its normal synthetic and metabolic function as part of normal physiology. Two forms are recognised:[1]




  • Yellowish discoloration of skin or eyes (icterus)
  • Pale stools
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal distension primarily due to fluid (ascites)
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Itchy and/or dry skin
  • Difficulty concentrating, confusion, loss of acute memory
  • Lethargy and sleepiness
  • Tremors of hands and fingers

Liver failure is a life threatening disease and anyone with the above symptoms should seek immediate medical attention. [2]


  • Drug overdose: the classic drug is acetaminophen. There are warnings on labels of acetaminophen bottles about liver failure.
  • Prescription medications like anti seizure medications, antibiotics (tetracyclines), anti inflammatory drugs
  • Herbal supplements like kava, ephedra, skull cap and others
  • Hepatitis B, C and E
  • Wild or poisonous mushrooms
  • Autoimmune disorders: primary biliary cirrhosis
  • Hemochromatosis (inherited disorder where too much iron accumulates in the liver)
  • Blood vessel disorders like Budd-chiari syndrome
  • Rare metabolic disorders like Wilson's disease rare disorder where there is excess copper deposition in the body
  • Reye's syndrome is acute liver failure in children which may be related to use of aspirin
  • Alcoholism- causes progressive damage to the liver
  • Cancer


The diagnosis of liver failure involves blood work and examination of the liver. A small liver biopsy can be applied under local anesthesia. Individuals whom are at risk may undergo a biopsy by inserting a small tube down the neck and into the liver. This is done under X ray visualization and takes about 30 minutes. [3]


When liver failure develops and treatment is delayed, it can cause several complications [4] which includes:

Brain swelling

This is due to fluid increase in the brain which deprives the brain of oxygen. This swelling accounts for the mental confusion, tremors and excess sleepiness [5].

Excessive bleeding

The liver makes proteins which help stop bleeding. In liver failure these protein compounds are not made and the individual develops a tendency to bleed. The bleeding often occurs in the stomach and can be massive.


The majority of individuals with acute liver failure requires of attention in the intensive care unit. The aim of treatment is to decrease pressure in the brain, treat any infection, prevent bleeding and perform a dialysis if the kidney has stopped making urine. The treatment can be complex and requires delicate fluid balance, nutrition and monitoring of pressure in the brain. Many of these individuals develop difficult breathing and may be placed on a (mechanical ventilation) machine for days or weeks. The fluid from the abdomen may need to be repeatedly removed using a small needle. This small procedure is easily performed and allows one to breathe easier. However, repeated removal of this fluid also results in a loss of valuable body proteins.

If the patients condition continues to deteriorate, then a liver transplant may be required. The problem with a liver transplant is obtaining a donor. The surgery is also complex and is only done at relatively few specialist centres. Moreover after a liver transplant, many complications can occur and one has to remain on strong medications to prevent rejection of the liver. [6]


While one cannot completely prevent liver failure one can reduce the risk. This means doing the following:

  • Follow instructions on all medications and never exceed the dose
  • Drink alcohol in moderation or avoid it completely
  • Avoiding risky behaviour like injectable drugs and sharing needles
  • Getting vaccinated against hepatitis B
  • Avoiding contact with other individual's body fluids and blood
  • Avoiding the fume from toxic chemicals
  • Not sharing any personal care products with anyone
  • Ensure that you wear a condom when having sex with an unknown partner, avoiding sex with multiple partners
  • Eating healthy and exercising on a regular basis.

In the years past, liver failure carried a very high mortality. However, with better knowledge, availability of liver transplantation and improved Intensive care unit monitoring, survival is often almost assured. [7]


  1. ^ O'Grady JG, Schalm SW, Williams R (1993). "Acute liver failure: redefining the syndromes". Lancet 342 (8866): 273–5. doi:10.1016/0140-6736(93)91818-7. PMID 8101303. 
  2. ^ Cirrhosis Overview Retrieved on 2010-01-12
  3. ^ The Progression of Liver Disease American Liver Foundation. Retrieved on 2010-01-12
  4. ^ Liver Failure Retrieved on 2010-01-12
  5. ^ Acute liver failure Mayo Clinic. Retrieved on 2010-01-12
  6. ^ Acute Liver Failure eMedicine Gastroenterology. Retrieved on 2010-01-12
  7. ^ Liver Failure Overview Retrieved on 2010-01-12

Simple English

The fact that the liver is no longer able to perform its function is called Liver failure or Hepatic failure. These functions include the synthesis of proteins. It is also part of the metabolism. The failure can either be acute or chronic.

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