Liver Failure or Liver Damage – Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

Liver damage or liver failure takes place when a large part of the liver is damaged beyond repair and the liver as a whole does not perform as it needs to be. Liver failure is indeed a serious medical condition that needs critical medical care. Diagnosing the condition early and identifying the causes are very vital for the treatment process to start. The treatment process is also very complicated and time consuming. In most of the cases liver failure occurs slowly and may take many years before a patient realizes any noticeable problem. However, in some rare conditions known as acute liver failure, the situation deteriorates rapidly, which could have remained undetected even 48 hours ago.

Causes of Liver Failure or Liver Damage

Liver damage or liver failure occurs when liver cells are damaged considerably and can’t function at all. It can be caused due to numerous factors and also sometimes one can develop the condition even without knowing the exact cause of it. Possible causes of such liver failure or damage include:

  • Hepatitis A & B and other viruses as a leading cause for Liver Failure or Damage:Hepatitis A, B and E can cause liver failure or damage. Other viruses that can cause acute liver failure include cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, and herpes simplex virus.
  • Toxins as a cause of Liver Failure or Damage: Some naturally occurring toxins like wild mushrooms Amanita phalloides which could be mistaken as an edible species can harm the liver severely.
  • Autoimmune diseases responsible for Liver Failure or Damage: Autoimmune hepatitis is a typical physical condition when a person’s own immune system attacks the liver cells causing inflammation and injury.
  • Metabolic diseases as a cause for Liver Failure or Liver Damage: Some rare metabolic diseases like acute fatty liver during pregnancy or Wilson’s disease occasionally causes liver failure.
  • Prescription drugs responsible for Causing Liver Failure or Liver Damage:Some prescribed medicines like antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs and anticonvulsants can also cause liver damage.
  • Blockage in veins in liver causing Liver Failure or Liver Damage:Some diseases can cause blockages in the veins of the liver leading to impaired supply of blood and oxygen in the liver cells. This may cause severe damage in liver.
  • Cancer as a cause for Liver Failure or Liver Damage:Liver cancer or any other cancer that has spread into the liver can cause liver failure. Two of the major types of cancer causing liver failure are Hepatocellular Carcinoma and Metastatic Carcinoma.
  • Vascular Diseases causing Liver Failure or Liver Damage: Certain vascular diseases like Ischemic Heart disease can lead to Liver failure or damage.
  • Pregnancy causing Liver Failure or Liver Damage: Some evidence suggests that pregnancy could increase the chances of liver failure in some women. However, the exact cause of it is not known.

Diagnosis of Liver Failure

The precise diagnosis of liver disease involves the history of the patient and physical examination performed on the patient previously. Understanding the symptoms and the patient’s all accumulated risk factors for liver disease helps the medical practitioner to decide what diagnostic tests needs to be considered.

Liver disease can have several physical symptoms that affect almost all body systems including the skin, heart, lungs, abdomen, brain and cognitive function, and other parts of the nervous system. The typical diagnosis process goes as:

History Assessment for Liver Failure: If a person has a history of genetic disorder, alcohol abuse, family history of liver disease, drug intoxication, blood transfusion, unprotected sexual contact, then it amounts the probability of having a liver disease.

Physical Examination for Liver Failure or Damage: Physical examination is conducted on all parts of the body to identify the causes to liver failure.

Blood Tests to Diagnose Liver Failure or Liver Damage: The blood tests include-

  • Aspartate Transaminase (AST) and Alanine Transaminase (ALT)
  • Bilirubin
  • Serum Protein and albumin levels test
  • Gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT) and alkaline Phosphatase

Some other blood tests may also require:

  • Complete blood count (CBC): Patients with severe liver damage may have bone marrow suppression and low red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. As a result, patients with cirrhosis may have moderate to severe bleeding.
  • Prothrombin time test: This measures how long it takes the sampled blood to clot. With liver failure, blood normally won’t clot as promptly as it should.
  • Lipase Test: This is conducted to test for pancreas inflammation.
  • Electrolytes, BUN and Creatinine tests: These tests are conducted to assess kidney function.
  • Ammonia Blood Level Test: The mental confusion in a patient may be the cause of damaged lever. These tests help patients with mental confusion to verify whether liver failure is a potential reason.

Imaging: This includes Ultrasound Scan, CAT scan, MRI, and Endoscopy to detect the presence of liver pathology and damaged liver tissues within the organ as well as all other nearby organs.

Liver biopsy: This is considered to verify the level of damage in the Lever. It is done under local anesthetic, when a long thin needle is inserted through the chest wall into the liver, and a minute section of liver tissue is collected for examination under a microscope.

Treatment for Liver Failure

Treatment of Liver disease largely depends on the diagnosis process and the inherent cause of such disease.

Hepatitis A requires supportive care to maintain hydration level and body’s immune system to resolve the infection level. Patients with gallbladder stone needs surgery to remove the Gallbladder or the stones as the situation demands. In other conditions long-term treatment may be necessary.

In patients with Liver cirrhosis or any other end-stage liver failure condition, highly potential medications may be needed to control the quantity of protein absorbed in the diet. The liver with cirrhosis may not be able to metabolize the waste products, resulting in increased level of blood ammonia and hepatic encephalopathy i.e. lethargy, confusion, and coma. Low sodium diet and diuretics may be required to minimize retention of water with waste products.

Patients when diagnosed with large amounts of ascites fluids, the excess fluid level may have to be removed through a process called paracentesis. In this process with the help of local anesthetic, a needle is inserted through the abdominal wall to suck out the fluid instantly.

In extreme case, when all the above treatment fails or the damage has been done to such an extent that there remains no scope to enhance liver functionality the only way out is Liver Transplantation.

How to Prevent Liver Failure or Liver Damage

Several preventative steps can be adopted to keep this extremely important organ in good function. Some of the ways are:

  • Hepatitis Vaccines to prevent Hepatitis A and B are to be taken in proper time.
  • Wholesome and nutritious foods containing all kinds of essential vitamins and minerals and low in fat foods are good for liver and also enhance body’s immune system.
  • It’s better to avoid alcohol; otherwise it should be taken with precaution without exceeding the recommended amount and in a disciplined way.
  • Smoking should also be prohibited or must not be made a habit.
  • All sorts of hygienic practices are to be adopted with utmost seriousness.

Conclusion

Liver damage may be very feeble to acute. Patients with damaged liver often couldn’t understand the symptoms or just ignore it assuming those as mere physical problems. In many instances liver failure occurs without any apparent symptoms and the disease is diagnosed at a very advanced stage. People on the other hand, can opt for many precautionary measures to reduce the risk of liver failure or damage and live a healthy life.

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