Liver failure or liver insufficiency is the complete functional failure of the human liver, which, depending on the specific form and cause, can lead to the death of the person concerned after just a few weeks.
What is liver failure?
If there is a justified suspicion of liver failure or even just a liver disorder, the doctor treating you has a number of diagnostic measures at his disposal. See AbbreviationFinder for abbreviations related to Liver Failure.
The liver, as one of the largest human organs responsible for metabolism, has several vital functions. This includes, for example, the storage of essential substances such as fat-soluble vitamins, detoxification of the body and the conversion of sugar molecules.
Liver failure would therefore have serious consequences for the functionality of the human body. In view of the different causes that come into question, different forms are differentiated; specifically, these are acute and chronic liver failure and, as an intermediate form, the subacute form. The acute form occurs suddenly and leads to severe functional failure of the liver just a few days after the onset.
As a rule of thumb, patients who are not treated quickly enough will lose their liver after just four weeks, with the result that it has to be surgically removed. There is also chronic liver failure, which occurs over a longer period of time. Sometimes several years can pass before the first noticeable functional disorders and finally liver failure appear.
Since the respective courses can be different due to the different causes and triggers of liver failure, subacute liver failure is still recognized as an intermediate form of acute and chronic liver failure.
A wide variety of reasons can be considered as possible causes. In the case of acute liver failure, infection with special viruses is often to blame for the onset of the disease. These include the hepatitis virus and some herpes simplex viruses.
However, it is not always only pathogenic viruses that play a role. Rather, another cause is poisoning of the body with drugs. Above all, excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages and types of alcohol that are not suitable for consumption can lead to severe liver damage and even liver failure.
Chronic liver failure, on the other hand, is rarely caused by acute viral infections. There is often an underlying disease that also affects the liver and, in extreme cases, can lead to a functional failure of the liver.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
There are a variety of symptoms that can indicate liver failure. These can occur individually or in combination and increase in intensity as the causative disease progresses. In the early stages, liver failure is manifested by dizziness, loss of appetite and exhaustion, among other things. Those affected also notice a swollen abdomen and suffer from diarrhea and vomiting.
Jaundice develops as the disease progresses. External changes then develop, such as yellow skin, sunken eye sockets, and a generally sickly appearance. The white of the eyes (sclera) is also typical. Then there are changes in facial expressions – the facial features change and the eyelids start to flutter noticeably.
Associated with this, [[edema9]e form in the arms and legs. At the same time, mental performance also decreases. The affected person can no longer concentrate, gets tired quickly and falls asleep again and again very suddenly. In addition, there are blood clotting disorders, which can be recognized by reddish bleeding under the skin. Eventually, liver failure leads to kidney failure or hepatic coma. The patient eventually dies of organ failure.
Diagnosis & History
If there is a justified suspicion of liver failure or even just a liver disorder, the doctor treating you has a number of diagnostic measures at his disposal. The simplest measure, which also has the fewest side effects, is palpation of the right side of the abdomen, where the liver is located, and visualization of the liver using radiation-free ultrasound.
Since the liver enlarges significantly in the event of liver failure, this circumstance can be a reason for the doctor to carry out further examinations. If the cause is a hepatitis infection, the affected person’s skin yellows, which can also be considered as a starting point for the doctor. It is also known that the liver is responsible for the conversion of sugar molecules.
Conversely, this means that if the patient ‘s blood count indicates hypoglycaemia, there could be a malfunction in the liver in the regulation of sugar conversion, which would further strengthen the suspicion of liver failure.
In the worst case, liver failure can lead to death. Those affected suffer from this complaint primarily from severe jaundice and bile stasis. The eyes and skin turn yellow and directly indicate liver failure. For this reason, a quick diagnosis can be made in most cases.
Fluid builds up in the abdominal cavity. Furthermore, liver failure can also lead to kidney failure, in which the affected person usually dies after a few days if this is not treated. Patients are then dependent on dialysis or a kidney transplant. Legs and arms can also tremble and those affected often suffer from fever. The patient’s quality of life decreases significantly due to liver failure.
Liver transplantation is usually necessary in the event of liver failure. Until then, the functions of the liver are maintained with artificial machines. Usually there are no special complications. However, even with a transplant, the course of the disease does not always turn out to be completely positive. In many cases, the life expectancy of those affected is significantly reduced by liver failure.
When should you go to the doctor?
People who experience repeated dizziness, vomiting, nausea, or a general feeling of being unwell should see a doctor. A doctor’s visit is necessary in the event of loss of appetite, a drop in the usual level of performance and an increased need for sleep. If there is swelling at the level of the stomach or changes in the appearance of the skin, there is cause for concern. A yellowish colored exterior indicates an irregularity that should be investigated. If edema develops or if irregularities in bowel movements are noticed, the observations should be discussed with a doctor. Circulatory disorders, cold extremities or interruptions in the heart rhythm must be examined and treated.
Changes in the eyes or facial expressions are to be understood as a warning from the organism. If your eyes turn white or you notice any abnormalities in your usual facial features, you should consult a doctor immediately. Twitching and trembling of the eyelids should be reported to a doctor if the symptoms persist for several days or weeks. Changes in memory performance are also of concern. In the event of a memory disorder or the inability to recall acquired knowledge, a doctor’s visit is urgently needed. Since liver failure can be fatal, a doctor should be consulted as soon as the first health problems appear. If pain sets in, sleep disorders or an ailing appearance, a doctor’s visit is advisable.
Treatment & Therapy
First and foremost, the most important thing about treating liver failure is that it must be prompt. If the liver has already completely given up its functions, every treatment revolves around the preservation of life.
Because once damaged liver tissue can no longer be regenerated. It is therefore only a matter of artificially maintaining the vital functions of the liver with medical instruments until the person concerned receives a replacement liver transplanted from a donor. In order to protect the organism, the patient has to do without ordinary food.
Since the human gastrointestinal tract is closely connected to the liver, any digestive process would strain the liver, which is no longer functional anyway and would therefore only further aggravate the course of the disease. Essential substances that the body needs are injected directly into the bloodstream through infusions. The regulated supply through infusions can also keep the sugar balance at a normal level, for which the liver is otherwise responsible.
It is also important that cerebral edema, accumulation of water in the central nervous system, can develop in liver failure. Therefore, the patient’s brain must also be constantly monitored.
Outlook & Forecast
The liver carries out vital metabolic functions in the human organism. These cannot be taken over by other bodies. If the liver fails, dangerous conditions can occur. If not treated immediately, the prognosis is poor. Statistically speaking, a young age of the patient and a low level of underlying diseases speak for better chances of recovery. A susceptibility to liver failure can be found in people who take the wrong medication. Chemotherapy can also play its part. Eating an unhealthy diet also contributes to liver disease.
In about half of all cases, only a transplant can remedy the condition. Those affected maintain their vital functions via dialysis. Scientists have classified the duration of liver failure. While in so-called fulminant liver failure the failure extends to a maximum of one week, chronic liver failure represents the maximum possible extent.
Patients then suffer from the disease for months. According to the classification, the threat of liver failure also increases. The typical signs are increasing. Failure to treat it will inevitably lead to a process of intoxication in the body. Damaged tissue parts of the liver always have a negative effect. Because they can no longer be regenerated.
Liver failure is one of the diseases that is relatively easy to prevent. This includes, for example, hepatitis vaccinations to prevent the onset of the disease even when infected with hepatitis viruses. Furthermore, by avoiding drugs and using alcohol responsibly, damage to the liver and thus liver failure can be successfully prevented.
In most cases, those affected with liver failure have no special options for aftercare. It is a serious condition that needs to be treated by a doctor. If the liver failure is not treated, the patient usually dies. Therefore, patients should contact a doctor at the very first signs and symptoms of this disease.
However, liver failure cannot always be cured, so that in many cases no further follow-up measures are necessary if the person concerned dies as a result of the failure. In most cases, patients with this disease require a liver transplant. The person concerned should definitely rest after such an operation and protect his body.
In any case, strenuous or physical activities should be avoided in order not to delay healing. As a rule, a healthy lifestyle with a healthy diet also has a positive effect on the preservation of the liver. Alcohol should also be avoided so as not to stress the liver. In many cases, however, liver failure significantly reduces the life expectancy of the person affected.
You can do that yourself
So that liver failure does not occur in the first place, substances and foods that could damage the liver should be avoided. Anyone who already has liver disease should avoid drugs that damage the organ. When picking mushrooms, don’t eat unfamiliar mushrooms.
Should the liver nevertheless become ill, the patient must take it easy. A relief diet can be worked out in cooperation with the doctor or a nutritionist. The diet plan should primarily contain plant-based foods such as artichokes, dandelion, Brussels sprouts and sage. Dark chocolate may also be eaten with the consent of a doctor, because cocoa lowers blood pressure and alleviates the typical symptoms of liver disease.
Despite all these measures, acute liver failure can occur. Then the following applies: Alert the emergency services immediately. The affected person must then be treated in a specialized center. If everything goes well, operations, a strict diet and physiotherapeutic measures can slowly bring you back to everyday life. Since acute liver failure is a life-threatening condition, consequential damage always remains – this is where talking to a therapist and other people affected can help.