by Amy Scholten, MPH
Liver failure is when the liver does not work well. The liver helps the body remove toxins, process food, and store energy.
Liver failure may be:
Liver failure can be fatal.
Acute liver failure is often caused by medicines, toxins, or viruses that harm the liver.
Chronic liver failure is often caused by medical problems such as:
Things that raise the risk of acute liver failure are:
Things that raise the risk of chronic liver failure are:
Symptoms of acute liver failure begin quickly. Symptoms of chronic liver failure worsen over time.
Symptoms may be:
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. The doctor may ask about medicines, supplements, and alcohol use. A physical exam will be done.
Blood and urine tests will help to show how well the liver is working.
Images may be needed to check for signs of liver damage. This can be done with:
A liver biopsy may be done. A sample of liver tissue is taken and tested. It will look for causes of liver failure.
Other tests may be done to check for damage to the brain.
Treatment depends on the cause and type of liver failure. Acute liver failure needs supportive care in the hospital. Fast treatment can be life-saving.
Options may be:
Medicine that caused liver failure will be stopped and/or changed. Medicines may be given to:
Diet and Lifestyle Changes
Certain foods are harder on the liver. Diet changes and supplements may be needed.
Alcohol is also damaging to the liver. Alcohol use will need to be stopped. Treatment may be needed for alcohol and drug use problems.
If other treatments do not help, a liver transplant may be needed.
To help reduce the risk of liver damage:
American Liver Foundation
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Acute liver failure. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/acute-liver-failure. Accessed August 10, 2021.
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. Accessed August 10, 2021.
Sivell C. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: a silent epidemic. Gastroenterol Nurs. 2019;42(5):428-434.
Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD
Last Updated: 8/10/2021
EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at email@example.com. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.