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by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
The liver filters harmful items from the blood and helps your body process food. It also makes important proteins that helps the blood cells clot and fights infections. Failure is the gradual or sudden loss of liver function. It may be:
Acute liver failure can occur after poisoning. A common cause is the improper use of certain medications, like acetaminophen, and herbal supplements. It may also be caused by a virus that attacks the liver.
Chronic liver failure is often due to other medical conditions such as:
Risk Factors TOP
Factors that may increase your risk of acute liver failure include:
Factors that may increase your risk of chronic liver failure include:
Symptoms of acute liver failure begin quickly. Symptoms of chronic liver failure will worsen over time.
Symptoms of liver failure include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. The doctor may ask about any medication or supplements you are taking, as well as alcohol use. A physical exam will be done.
Blood and urine tests will help to show how well the liver is working. They can show changes in liver enzymes, the ability to clot, or any toxins that may be present.
Images may be needed to check for signs of liver damage. This can be done with:
A liver biopsy may be done to help find a cause for the liver failure and to look for damage. During the biopsy, a sample of liver tissue is removed for careful examination.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment will depend on the cause of your liver failure and whether it is acute or chronic. Options include:
Medications that cause liver failure will be stopped and/or changed. You may also be given medication:
Diet and Lifestyle Changes
Certain foods are harder on the liver. Some changes may need to be made to the diet. Common changes include limiting animal protein and sodium.
Alcohol is also damaging to the liver and should be avoided. If you abuse alcohol or drugs, you may be referred to a rehabilitation center.
Liver Transplant TOP
A liver transplant may be needed. It is only done if other treatments are not able to control the symptoms of liver failure.
To decrease stress on the liver:
American Liver Foundation
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Acute liver failure. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900055/Acute-liver-failure. Updated December 30, 2016. Accessed February 3, 2017.
Acute liver failure. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/hepatic-and-biliary-disorders/approach-to-the-patient-with-liver-disease/acute-liver-failure. Updated May 2016. Accessed February 3, 2017.
Liver failure. Patient UK website. Available at:
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Updated March 12, 2014. Accessed February 3, 2017.
Last reviewed June 2017 by Daus Mahnke, MD