The liver plays an important role in removing toxins from the body’s blood supply, aiding in digestion, metabolizing drugs, and storing nutrients. It also secrets a clear yellow or orange fluid called bile, which helps break down fats, making them suitable for further digestion and absorption. When the liver is not able to perform its functions, liver failure occurs. It happens gradually and over many years. While in earlier stages, it presents symptoms similar to those of other liver diseases such as fatigue, loss of appetite, and nausea, in later stages, the symptoms include jaundice, easy bleeding, a swollen belly, and mental confusion.
What is liver failure?
Liver failure is a medical condition that involves the gradual or complete shutdown of the liver. Various illnesses and factors, including non-alcohol related fatty liver disease, Hepatitis B and C, alcohol abuse and hemochromatosis, are known as the causes of this ailment.
Another significant factor that leads to liver failure is cirrhosis or scarring of the liver. In such cases, healthy liver tissue gets gradually replaced by scar tissue. Liver cirrhosis is a progressive condition that doesn't cause many symptoms in the beginning. However, as it advances, it can lead to fatigue, weakness, jaundice, fluid retention, and other significant complications.
What are common symptoms of liver failure?
It takes over several years for the liver failure to progress. The liver keeps on losing its ability to function as the disease advances. What makes it hard to diagnose liver failure is that its early stages might not present with obvious symptoms. This slow progression makes it hard to pinpoint the onset of the problem and only when the symptoms become severe, the condition becomes more noticeable and clinically evident.
Some of the symptoms in early stage may include:
However, in later stages, the symptoms may include:
What are the types of liver failure?
There are two main types of liver failure: chronic and acute liver failure.
Chronic: It is the gradual and progressive deterioration of the liver's function over an extended period of time. It is often caused by non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis and alcoholic liver disease, among others.
Acute: Sometimes, the liver can experience a rare dysfunction, a condition referred to as acute liver failure. In such a condition, the patient may exhibit a range of symptoms such as alterations in mental clarity and cognitive function, bleeding tendencies, as well as the development of a musty or sweet breath odor. It also involves noticeable changes such as difficulty in movement, loss of appetite and an overall feeling of being unwell. This usually happens when the liver stops working within a matter of days or weeks. In the case of an acute liver failure, prompt medical attention is required so as to minimize the potential for severe health consequences.
Diagnosis and treatment
The doctor is likely to start by knowing the patient’s medical history followed by a thorough physical examination. Subsequently, the doctor might recommend:
Blood examinations: A group of blood tests such as liver function tests may be done to evaluate liver ailments. Some other tests may also be required to pinpoint specific liver issues or genetic disorders.
Tissue analysis: A tissue sample (biopsy) from the liver may be analyzed to aid in diagnosing liver diseases and detecting indications of liver damage.
Liver failure is a critical medical condition that requires prompt attention and intervention. Early detection of the signs of liver dysfunction, coupled with appropriate medical care, can significantly improve the prognosis and quality of life for individuals at risk. Apart from this, regular medical check-ups and a healthy lifestyle are essential in maintaining liver health.