Liver Failure or Liver Damage – Types, Symptoms, Epidemiology, Prognosis and What to Expect

Liver is a vital organ in our body located in the upper right abdominal region. It is indeed a critical organ that not only supports the various bodily functions but also plays an important role in the functioning of other important organs.

Liver failure or damage is a condition that occurs due to severe degeneration of the organ. It marks the incapability of one’s body to perform the routine bodily functions which are aiding in digestion, metabolization of nutrients and detoxification of the body. It is indeed one of the most important organs of our body, which on degradation can directly or indirectly affect other bodily functions.

Types of Liver Failure or Liver Damage

Liver Failure or liver damage can broadly be categorized into two types namely Acute Liver Failure and Chronic Liver Failure.

  • Acute Liver Failure: It is a condition which is a resultant of rapid deterioration of the organ due to severe and rapid complications in a patient without a history of liver disease. The condition though infrequent can cause serious problems like excessive bleeding along with the increase in pressure of the brain. The treatments done are mostly liver transplant.
  • Chronic Liver Failure: This medical condition occurs generally due to progressive damage to the liver over a period of at least six months. The damage usually attacks the organ due to its prolonged exposure to a variety of toxins.

Symptoms of Liver Failure or Damage

The liver disease if identified at an earlier stage can certainly prove itself as a boon to the patient because early detection is early prevention. For timely detection of the disease, the patients are needed to monitor their symptoms regularly. Though there is a long list of symptoms relating to it, but this guide focuses on the prime symptoms.

Acute Liver Failure: The first signs usually constitute below symptoms:

  • Pale yellow skin and eyes as in the case of Jaundice.
  • Painful upper right abdomen area.
  • Drowsiness
  • Perplexity
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Swelling and tenderness in the abdominal region.

 Chronic Liver Failure: The checklist for the symptoms for chronic liver condition is:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Sudden Weight loss or gain
  • Yellow colour of Skin and Eyes
  • Pale coloured urine and stools
  • Swelling in abdomen, ankles and legs due to fluid retention or oedema
  • Bruised and itchy skin
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Fever

Epidemiology of Liver Failure and Damage

Although the prevalence of acute liver failure was difficult to establish due to lack of comprehensive data, recent studies have suggested an increased incidence of the condition. The studies have suggested 2300-2800 new cases being registered every year in USA and 400 new cases in UK. As suggested by a recent report, the incidence rate in India for liver diseases is around 1 in every 5 individuals and around 5% of these cases can proceed towards having a liver failure.

Prognosis of Liver Failure or Damage

The prognosis mainly depends on the stage of liver failure, age, cause and also the type. Chronic liver failure has a better outcome when liver transplant is done. However, acute liver failure accounts for 0.1% of all deaths and 6% of all liver-related deaths in USA and UK. According to the latest statistics from World Health Organisation, the death count from liver failure in India rose to over 2 lakh deaths, constituting a 2.44% of total lives lost. The data states that the age adjusted Death Rate are 21.96 per 100,000 of population for the nation. India ranks #61 in the world relating to the death toll due to liver failure.

What to Expect in this Condition?

The prognosis would give a brief idea of the duration, complications, and prospects of recovery, survival and death. The outcomes to be anticipated for Liver Failure or Damage can be many which primarily depends on the cause of failure or damage.

This condition has high rates of morbidity and mortality due to its unpredictable nature, yet there are key prognostic indicators to identify the likely outcomes. The indicators are:

  • The Cause of the condition
  • Stage of Liver Failure
  • Complications involved
  • Symptoms associated
  • Possibilities of treatment
  • The Prothrombin Time test result to assess the bleeding problems
  • The grade of Coma (if the patient is in coma) on admission of the patient
  • Age of the patient
  • Pregnancy and the period of gestation

Medical conditions like Hepatitis A, Ischemia, Paracetamol over dosage, Patients aged 40 and above and pregnant women usually in their third trimester have only short term survival chances without a liver transplantation.

The diseases like Hepatitis B, adverse reaction on liver due to idiosyncratic drugs, autoimmune hepatitis are associated with spontaneous survival of the patient but significantly shorter life expectancy compared to normal population. Patients suffering from hereditary liver disorder with simultaneous alcohol abuse have a major loss in life expectancy.

It is hence, very important to not ignore any of the symptoms if observed as an early identification helps in early diagnosis of the cause and the treatment.

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