Acute liver failure

Other names: Fulminant liver failure


Acute liver failure is the rapid loss of liver function, usually occurring in a person with no pre-existing liver disease. It is a less common but serious condition that can lead to complications such as excessive bleeding and increased pressure in the brain. Immediate medical attention and hospitalization are necessary for this medical emergency.


When to see a doctor: Seek immediate medical attention if you notice yellowing of the eyes or skin, tenderness in the upper abdomen, or any unusual changes in mental state, personality, or behavior.


Causes of acute liver failure include:

Many cases have no apparent cause.


Complications of acute liver failure may include:


Expect questions from your doctor about symptoms, medications, herbal supplements, drug use, hepatitis history, alcohol consumption, family history of liver problems, and more.

Questions to ask your doctor: Inquire about the cause of your condition, reversibility, treatment options, need for a liver transplant, and available transplant units.


Diagnosis involves blood tests to assess liver function, imaging tests like ultrasound, and sometimes a liver biopsy to determine the underlying cause.


Treatment may involve medications to reverse poisoning or ultimately a liver transplant if irreversible damage occurs. Control of complications like cerebral edema and infections is crucial.


Reduce your risk by following medication instructions, disclosing all medicines to your doctor, moderating alcohol intake, avoiding risky behaviors, getting vaccinated for hepatitis if at risk, and maintaining a healthy weight.


  1. What are the symptoms of acute liver failure?

Symptoms include jaundice, abdominal pain/swelling, nausea/vomiting, confusion, and sleepiness.

  1. What can cause acute liver failure?

Causes include acetaminophen overdose, viral hepatitis, toxins, autoimmune diseases, and metabolic diseases.

  1. How is acute liver failure diagnosed?

Diagnosis involves blood tests for liver function evaluation and imaging tests like ultrasound.

  1. What are potential complications of acute liver failure?

Complications may include cerebral edema, bleeding disorders, infections, and kidney failure.

  1. When should one seek medical attention for acute liver failure?

Immediate medical attention is needed if symptoms like jaundice or mental changes occur.

  1. What lifestyle measures can help prevent acute liver failure?

Following medication instructions, moderating alcohol intake, avoiding risky behaviors and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the risk.

  1. Is acute liver failure reversible?

Depending on the cause and severity, it may be reversible with treatment or require a liver transplant.

  1. What role does acetaminophen overdose play in acute liver failure?

Acetaminophen overdose is a common cause in the United States and can lead to rapid liver damage.

  1. How is cerebral edema managed in acute liver failure?

Medications can help reduce fluid buildup in the brain to alleviate pressure.

  1. Are there specific vaccines recommended for individuals at risk of acute liver failure?

Vaccines for Hepatitis A and B can be beneficial for those at increased risk of contracting these viruses.