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Acute liver failure is a condition in which a large part of the liver gets damaged and does not function efficiently. Liver is the second largest part of the body which helps in processing the food. The liver converts food into nutrients and energy for the body. It filters the harmful substances from the body and also fights and eliminates the infection from the body. Failure of the liver may disturb the functioning of the body.

Acute liver failure is also known as fulminant hepatic failure. It is less common when compared to chronic liver failure. This is a serious condition and needs immediate medical attention. If acute liver failure is left untreated the condition may develop serious complications.

In most of the cases, liver damage occurs gradually over a period of time but in some rare cases, the damage to the liver occurs rapidly and may be difficult to diagnose the condition. Acute liver failure occurs suddenly without any signs and symptoms as a warning to the condition.


The signs and symptoms of acute liver failure are:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice
  • Itching
  • Build up of fluid in the legs and abdomen
  • Loss of appetite

There may be similar symptoms for various other disorders and problems and therefore the diagnosis for liver failure may be difficult. Some people may not develop any signs or symptoms until the condition reaches the final stage. The person may be at a risk of slipping into coma by the time he reaches the final stage of liver failure.

In case some people suffer from alcohol-related liver disease, they may suffer from jaundice and the color of the eyes and skin turns yellow in color. In such cases, there is a tendency of the accumulation of toxins in the brain which may result in the lack of concentration and may have decreased mental ability. In severe cases, the person may also develop liver cancer.


A person may develop acute liver failure even without any preexisting liver disease. In some cases, acute liver failure may develop due to the overdose of a drug called acetaminophen.

Acute liver failure may be caused due to the below mentioned reasons.

  • Certain medications may cause liver failure
  • Certain toxins
  • A few autoimmune diseases
  • Use of herbal supplements
  • Certain viral infections such as hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C
  • A person with a family history of liver disease may develop acute liver failure
  • Excess consumption of alcohol
  • Use of unhygienic needles
  • Infection in the liver


  • Medical examination is performed by the doctor to make a note of all the changes and the complaints of the patient. The doctor may also ask for the complete medical history of the patient.
  • Blood test is performed to determine the levels of white blood cells as an increase in the level of white blood cells may result in the development of an infection in the body. Any kind of abnormality in the blood may determine liver damage.
  • Biopsy may be done, i.e. a piece of tissue from the affected part of the liver is taken and examined under the microscope in the laboratory.
  • Imaging tests - Imaging tests include CT scan, MRI, PET scan and X-ray. The imaging tests are performed to get a clear picture of the inside of the liver.


The treatment for acute liver failure may depend on the severity of the condition. In case a part of the liver is damaged, the doctor may recommend a surgery to treat the affected part of the liver. In some cases the entire liver is damaged and therefore the doctor may recommend the patient to undergo a liver transplant.


The following are the preventive measures for acute liver failure:

  • Maintain a proper diet
  • Practice proper hygiene
  • Wash hands before and after having food
  • Make sure a new needle is used for a body piercing
  • Do not share toiletry items
  • Avoid the consumption of alcohol
  • Do not handle blood and blood products without using gloves
  • Do not share the needles with anyone
  • Practice safe sex
  • Get vaccinated for hepatitis


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