Liver is a vital organ located in the abdominal cavity, on the upper right, beneath the rib cage. This organ is necessary for proper functioning of several bodily processes, such as blood clotting, waste elimination, fighting infection, production of bile, proteins and enzymes and storing vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
Liver failure is a serious and life-threatening condition. It occurs when liver fails to perform its functions normally. There are two basic types of liver failure- acute and chronic. Acute liver failure occurs when the liver is damaged due to conditions such as overdose on medication or ingestion of toxins.
Chronic liver failure is a long-term process of deterioration of liver function, which may take from several months to several weeks. It is the most common form of liver failure and it is associated with conditions such as cirrhosis and hemochromatosis.
Early symptoms of liver failure can be vague and easily mistaken for other health issues, such as chronic fatigue syndrome and stomach flu. Jaundice, however, is the tell-tale sign of advancing liver failure.
It is necessary to seek immediate medical attention in case of prolonged vomiting, nausea, weakness and fatigue. In addition, patients with history of cirrhosis, hepatitis, congestive heart failure and any other chronic disease are advised to monitor the liver function through laboratory tests, physical exams and ultrasound.
In case of impaired liver function, it is vital to stop consuming alcohol, recreational drugs and over-the-counter mediation, as those can lead to serious deterioration of the liver function. If the liver is not able to process the toxins and waste products, they may rise to dangerous levels, potentially leading to death.
Causes of liver failure
If liver failure is not caused by an immediate damaging factor, such as toxic substances, its cause is probably an underlying disease affecting the liver. Sometimes initial stages of liver failure, such as enlargement and inflammation, can be treated with medications that reverse the negative effects. If untreated, liver damage leads to scarring, which is called fibrosis, that eventually replaces healthy liver tissue. Scar tissue cannot be turned back to normal but the treatment can stop its progression.
Progression of liver failure leads to cirrhosis, a condition of permanent and irreversible liver damage.
Underlying conditions and factors contributing to liver failure include alcohol abuse, poisoning or toxic exposure, overuse of certain medications, severe acute hepatitis A, chronic hepatitis B or C, cystic fibrosis, congestive heart failure, biliary atresia, secondary biliary cirrhosis, hemochromatosis, diseases affecting glycogen storage, Wilson’s disease and autoimmune hepatitis.