Your liver is an organ in the upper right part of your belly. The liver does many important things:
Breaks down chemicals and drugs
Makes digestive fluid called bile
Produces many important substances, including ones that make your blood clot when you bleed
What is liver failure?
Liver failure is when your liver stops working well. Liver failure can affect one or more of the things your liver does.
Liver failure happens when a big part of your liver is damaged
Certain diseases, certain medicines, and alcohol can damage your liver
People with liver failure may have jaundice Jaundice in Adults Jaundice is a yellow color to your skin and the whites of your eyes. Jaundice is caused by a buildup of a substance called bilirubin Bilirubin is a yellow substance your body makes when it breaks... read more (yellow skin and eyes)
Treatment for liver failure usually involves treating the cause, a diet of less meat, limited salt, and no alcohol
Sometimes a liver transplant is needed
What causes liver failure?
Liver failure happens when a big part of your liver is damaged.
Your liver can be damaged by diseases such as:
Viral hepatitis Acute Hepatitis Hepatitis is inflammation (swelling) of your liver. An acute illness is one that comes on quickly and goes away quickly. Acute hepatitis sometimes becomes chronic hepatitis. A chronic illness... read more (swelling of the liver caused by a virus)—most commonly hepatitis B
Cirrhosis Cirrhosis of the Liver Your liver is a football-sized organ on the right side of your belly, just below your ribs. It has many important jobs: To make a liquid (bile) that helps your body digest fat To process nutrients... read more (a liver disease in which normal liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue)
Your liver can also be damaged by taking too much of certain substances:
Medicine such as acetaminophen, which can cause acetaminophen poisoning Acetaminophen Poisoning Acetaminophen is an over-the-counter medicine used to lower fevers and lessen pain. It's sold under many brand names, such as Tylenol®. It's also found in many cough and cold products. Acetaminophen... read more
What are the symptoms of liver failure?
Symptoms of liver failure can include:
Feeling tired, weak, or sick to your stomach
Bleeding and bruising more easily
Swelling in your belly area from fluid building up (ascites Ascites Ascites is the accumulation of protein-containing (ascitic) fluid within the abdomen. Many disorders can cause ascites, but the most common is high blood pressure in the veins that bring blood... read more )
Musty, sweet breath
Throwing up blood
Bloody stool (poop)
Liver failure can happen in just a few days or over several years.
Liver failure can be deadly if it isn’t treated. Even after treatment, liver failure may be permanent.
How can doctors tell if I have liver failure?
Doctors look at:
Blood tests to check how well your liver functions and find out what's causing your liver failure
Urine tests, blood tests, and chest x-rays to see if your liver failure is affecting other parts of your body
How do doctors treat liver failure?
There are no treatments that actually make your liver get better. However, doctors will have you do things to put less stress on your liver:
Not drink alcohol or take medicines that can hurt your liver
Eat less red meat, fish, cheese, and eggs
Eat more vegetable protein (such as soy)
Eat less salt (by avoiding salty foods and by not adding salt to your food)
If your liver gets worse quickly, doctors will treat you in the hospital. Treatment may include:
Fluids through a vein to keep your blood pressure up
Laxatives (medicine to help you pass stool) or enemas (fluid pushed into your anus and into your intestines to help you pass stool)—helps get rid of poisonous substances (toxins) from your body
Glucose (a sugar) given by vein (IV), if you have low blood sugar
Blood transfusions or medicine to help your blood clot if you're bleeding
Breathing tube and breathing machine (mechanical ventilator) if you have serious trouble breathing
A liver transplant (surgery to remove a failing liver and replace it with a healthy one from a donor) can fix liver function. However, a liver transplant isn’t right for all people with liver failure.