Hepatic Failure (Liver Failure): Symptoms, Treatment


Hepatic failure, also known as liver failure, occurs when the liver loses its normal functional ability. The liver is the second largest organ in the body and has several different functions. Hepatic failure is a serious condition which may be life-threatening.

Over 60,000 people die from hepatic failure annually, and more than 14,000 people are waiting for a liver transplant.

Types & Causes

Hepatic failure has four types: acute liver failure (ALF), subacute liver failure (SALF), acute-on-chronic liver failure (ACLF) and chronic liver failure (CLF).

Causes of acute liver failure (ALF)

  • Overdose of acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Viral infections, such as hepatitis A, B, and C (especially in children)
  • Reactions to certain prescription or herbal medications
  • Toxins, such as eating poisonous wild mushrooms
  • Have certain autoimmune diseases

Causes of chronic liver failure (CLF)


Symptoms of hepatic failure usually include:

  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Jaundice
  • Weight loss
  • Bruising or bleeding easily
  • Itching
  • Edema, or fluid buildup in the legs
  • Ascites
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Hepatic encephalopathy
  • Sleepiness
  • Coma


If you are suspected with hepatic failure, your doctors will ask your medical and family history and check your symptoms, then he may order some tests for you, such as:

  • Blood tests: The result may find iron-deficiency anemia; thrombocytopenia; an increase in INR, transaminases, bilirubin, ammonia level, lactate, hypoxia and raised creatinine; a decrease in pseudocholinesterase and glucose.
  • Free copper for Wilson’s disease
  • Paracetamol levels in case of poisoning
  • Doppler ultrasound
  • CT
  • MRI
  • EEG


If hepatic failure is detected early, it is more likely to be treated successfully. Treatment depends on the causes, symptoms and severity of your hepatic failure. Treatment options are usually involved:

  • Surgery to remove the damaged part of the liver
  • Liver transplant
  • Lactulose, often with neomycin, can be given to reduce ammonia production
  • Mannitol to reduce the raised intracranial pressure
  • Therapeutic hypothermia for cerebral edema
  • Haemodialysis or continuous arteriovenous haemofiltration for acute kidney injury
  • Fresh-frozen plasma, platelet concentrates, antifibrinolytic drugs, prothrombin complex concentrates to treat or prevent abnormal bleeding

Please consult your doctors for your specific treatment.

Keywords: hepatic failure; liver failure; liver disease.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.