Liver failure is a serious life-threatening condition that occurs when a large portion of the liver is severely damaged, preventing them from functioning properly.WebMD explains that liver failure most often occurs gradually over many years (chronic liver failure), however, there is a much rarer condition called acute liver failure, which occurs rapidly. It occurs – sometimes described as a rapid 48 hours.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chronic liver disease causes more than 36,000 deaths in the United States each year, while 2,000 to 2,300 people suffer acute liver failure each year, according to an article in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. Although both diseases cause essentially the same response in the liver, the immediate causes of chronic and acute liver failure may be different.
Chronic liver failure
Chronic liver failure develops over a long period of time and, according to WebMD, is caused by
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
- Prolonged alcohol consumption
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Hemochromatosis (a disease in which the body absorbs and stores too much iron)
Acute liver failure
Acute liver failure occurs quickly, sometimes within a few days; according to WebMD and the Mayo Clinic, causes of acute liver failure include
- Acetaminophen overdose.
- Viruses, such as hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C (especially in children)
- Reactions to certain prescription drugs or herbal remedies
- Ingestion of toxic mushrooms or other toxins
- Diseases, such as Budd-Chiari syndrome, in which veins in the liver are blocked, leading to acute liver failure
- Rare metabolic diseases, such as Wilson’s disease and acute fatty liver in pregnancy
- Cancer (cancer)
Symptoms of liver failure
WebMD says liver failure is often difficult to diagnose, so it’s important to know the early symptoms because they can be associated with many other diseases.
- Loss of appetite
However, as liver failure progresses, these symptoms can become more severe and require medical attention. Symptoms to watch for include
- Jaundice (yellowish jaundice)
- Easy bleeding
- Swelling of the abdomen
- Disorientation or confusion
The first approach to treating chronic liver failure is usually to look at what part of the liver and how much of it can be saved, according to WebMD. However, if it still has most of its function, a liver transplant may be needed. Liver transplants are fairly frequent and are usually successful.
For acute liver failure, the situation is slightly different. According to the Mayo Clinic, people who have been exposed to toxins such as acetaminophen overdose or mushrooms can usually be treated with medications that restore liver function. However, if these medications do not work, or if acute liver failure cannot be reversed, a liver transplant is required.
Chronic liver failure and acute liver failure have different causes and therefore different methods of prevention. When it comes to preventing chronic liver failure, it’s important to reduce the risk of developing cirrhosis or hepatitis; WebMD says you can do this by
- Getting a hepatitis vaccination or immune globulin injections to prevent hepatitis A or B.
- Eating an appropriate diet from all food groups.
- Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol.
- Avoid drinking alcohol while taking acetaminophen (Tylenol).
- Maintain proper hygiene and avoid contact with other people’s bodily fluids.
- Avoid tattoos and body piercings unless sanitation is good and all equipment is sterile (free of disease-causing microorganisms).
- Use protection (condoms) when engaging in sexual activity.
- Do not share needles when performing illegal intravenous injections.
When it comes to preventing acute liver failure, the Mayo Clinic notes that it is important to
- Follow medication instructions and avoid overdosing.
- Inform your doctor of all medications, even over-the-counter and herbal medications, as they may affect the prescription medications you are taking.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
- Do not use medications. If you do use them, do not share needles.
- Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B.
- Avoid contact with other people’s bodily fluids.
- Don’t eat wild mushrooms.
- Be careful when using aerosols. Let the room be well ventilated or wear a mask.
- Avoid toxins on the skin.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity can lead to a disease called NAFLD, which includes fatty liver, hepatitis and cirrhosis.