Acute Liver Failure

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Acute Liver Failure

Acute liver failure is loss of liver function that occurs rapidly — in days or weeks —usually in a person who has no pre-existing liver disease. Acute liver failure is less common than chronic liver failure, which develops more slowly.


Signs and symptoms of acute liver failure may include:

  • Yellowing of your skin and eyeballs (jaundice)
  • Pain in your upper right abdomen
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • A general sense of feeling unwell (malaise)
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Sleepiness

When to see a doctor

Acute liver failure can develop quickly in an otherwise healthy person, and it is life-threatening. Make an appointment with your doctor if you have above signs or symptoms.


Acute liver failure occurs when liver cells are damaged significantly and are no longer able to function. Potential causes include:

  • Acetaminophen overdose.
  • Some prescription medications, including antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and anticonvulsants, can cause acute liver failure.
  • Some Herbal drugs and supplements have been linked to acute liver failure.
  • Hepatitis and other viruses. Hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis E can cause acute liver failure. Other viruses that can cause acute liver failure include Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus and herpes simplex virus.
  • Toxins of the poisonous wild mushroom Amanita phalloides, which is sometimes mistaken for edible species.
  • Autoimmune disease like autoimmune hepatitis.
  • Vascular diseases, such as Budd-Chiari syndrome.
  • Metabolic disease such as Wilson’s disease and acute fatty liver of pregnancy.
  • Cancer that either begins in or spreads to your liver can cause your liver to fail.

Many cases of acute liver failure have no apparent cause.


Acute liver failure often causes complications, including:

  • Excessive fluid in the brain (cerebral edema)
  • Bleeding and bleeding disorders
  • Kidney failure

Tests and diagnosis

Tests and procedures used to diagnose acute liver failure include:

  • Blood tests. Blood tests to determine how well your liver is functioning may include the prothrombin time test, which measures how long it takes your blood to clot. With acute liver failure, blood won’t clot as quickly as it should.
  • Imaging tests such as ultrasound.
  • Examination of liver tissue (liver biopsy).

Treatments and drugs

Treatments for acute liver failure

  • Medications to reverse poisoning.
  • Liver transplant. When acute liver failure can’t be reversed, the only treatment may be a liver transplant.

Treatments for complications

Your doctor will work to control signs and symptoms you’re experiencing and try to prevent complications caused by acute liver failure. This care may include:

  • Relieving pressure caused by excess fluid in the brain.
  • Screening for infections.
  • Preventing severe bleeding.


  • Follow instructions on medications
  • Tell your doctor about all your medicines
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Avoid risky behavior
  • Get vaccinated
  • Avoid contact with other people’s blood and body fluids
  • Don’t eat wild mushrooms
  • Take care with aerosol sprays
  • Watch what gets on your skin
  • Maintain a healthy weight