liver failure

Liver failure occurs when large parts of the liver are damaged beyond repair and the liver is no longer able to function properly. It is a degenerative inflammatory disease that results in hardening and scarring of liver cells. The liver becomes unable to function properly due to the scarred tissue, which prevents the normal passage of blood through the organ.

Liver failure is a life-threatening condition that needs immediate, urgent medical care. If you believe you or a loved one has a failing liver, call 9-1-1 or go to an emergency room immediately. Usually, liver failure occurs slowly and over many years. The slow progression can make symptoms difficult to notice.

Acute Liver Failure

Acute liver failure is a rare condition. Acute liver failure occurs rapidly (in as little as 48 hours) and is usually a response of poisoning or medical overdose. It can be difficult to detect initially.

Causes of liver failure?

The most common causes of liver failure are:

  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C
    • About 75% of individuals with hepatitis C also have liver failure
  • Long term, excessive alcohol consumption
  • Cirrhosis
    • When failure occurs as a result of cirrhosis, it usually means that the liver has been failing gradually for some time, possibly for years. This is called chronic liver failure.
  • Hemochromatosis
  • Fatty liver
  • Severe malnutrition
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdose
  • Reaction to a prescribed medication
  • Ingestion of poisonous wild mushrooms

Symptoms in Humans?

The early symptoms of liver failure are similar to symptoms of many other conditions like the flu or digestive upset. Because of this, liver failure may initially difficult to diagnose. Some of the most common early stage symptoms are:

  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue
  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • upset stomach
  • weakness
  • unexplained, generalized itching
  • weight loss
  • enlarged liver
  • swelling of the abdomen and legs
    • Swelling in abdomen is often very uncomfortable. It might cause shortness of breath if there’s pressure on the diaphragm, nausea, loss of appetite, and abdominal and back pain.
    • Swelling increases the risk of developing an infection.
  • vomiting
  • red palms

As liver failure progresses, the symptoms become more serious. The most common symptoms of advanced failure include:

  • jaundice
    • Jaundice is a buildup of bile in the body that causes the skin and the whites of the eyes to turn yellow.  Jaundice is an indication that the liver can’t move bile (and toxins) to the intestines and out of the body.
  • bleeding easily
  • swollen abdomen
  • mental disorientation or confusion
  • sleepiness
  • coma

Treatment Options for liver failure?

Treatment options depend on the cause. If detected early enough, acute liver failure caused by an overdose of acetaminophen can sometimes be treated and its effects reversed.

If liver failure is the result of long-term deterioration, the initial focus may be on saving whatever part of the liver is still functioning. If saving part of the liver is not an option,  a liver transplant may be necessary. A liver transplant is a common procedure that is often successful. While still in early states, stem cell therapy could eventually replace liver transplants.

Can you die from liver failure?

Yes. If not taken care of properly and immediately, failure can cause death.

Complications of liver failure?

As the liver loses its ability to function, complications develop. The most common complications are:

  • High blood pressure
    • This usually develops in the veins that connect the digestive system with the liver. It can cause thinning of the walls of the veins, with possible rupture in the areas of the esophagus and stomach.
  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen
    • Severe fluid buildup can make breathing difficult by pressing on the diaphragm and can lead to blood poisoning.
  • Kidney failure
    • Kidney failure often occurs after an acetaminophen overdose, which damages both your liver and your kidneys.
  • Bleeding disorders
    • A sick liver is unable to make enough blood clotting factors. Bleeding disorders in the stomach and GI tract is very common and difficult to control.
  • Brain disease
    • Encephalopathy, or diseases of the brain may develop because toxins that the liver usually removes are not removed. The toxins can then be carried to the brain to cause anything from anxiousness and drowsiness to disorientation and coma.
    • Brain swelling (cerebral edema) is a life-threatening condition and must be treated immediately.

CBD oils to and liver failure

Currently, there are limited studies available about CBD (cannabidiol) and its effect on the liver. The few studies have given conflicting results, with some people experiencing a decrease in symptoms while others report symptoms worsen after taking CBD products.

The biggest hurdle with CBD and its effectiveness on specific diseases is that the label often contains very little information and the quality varies greatly from product to product.

If you are considering adding CBD to your treatment options, first consult with your doctor or a doctor who is experienced in prescribing medicinal cannabis.

Questions to ask our doctor about CBD

  • Will CBD help alleviate my symptoms?
  • What should I expect while taking CBD?
  • What is the best way to take CBD?
    • Orally (edibles, tinctures, oils)
    • Smoke
    • Topical (creams, lotions, oils)
  • How long will it take to experience relief?
  • What emergency symptoms indicate I should visit an Urgent Care center?
  • How frequently should I take it?
  • What dosage should I take?
  • How will I know if it is working?

Medicines that can cause liver failure

All medicines have side affects. Any drug, herbal supplement, or medicine taken in very high doses can cause liver failure.

  • Herbal nutritional supplements.
    • Some common herbs can cause liver failure. Consult with your doctor and be careful of consuming supplements that contain aloe vera, black cohosh, cascara, chaparral, comfrey, ephedra, or kava.
  • Chemicals and solvents.
    • Exposure to high doses of chemicals found in the workplace can cause liver failure
      • Toxic chemicals include:
        • vinyl chloride, which is used to make plastics;
        • carbon tetrachloride, a dry cleaning solution; 
        • the weed killer paraquat;
        • and polychlorinated biphenyls.
  • Chemotherapy is also another common cause of liver failure.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What should I do next?
  • Do I need a liver transplant?
  • Will my liver regenerate?
  • What are symptoms that I should not ignore?
  • When should I return for a checkup?
  • Are more tests needed?
  • Am I a strong candidate for a liver transplant?
  • Are there other lifestyle changes I should make to slow the progression of the liver disease?
  • Are there any over the counter medications or prescribed medications which should be reduced or stopped?

Prevent liver failure

Reduce your chances of developing acute liver failure by:

  • Follow all instructions on medications.
    • Check inserts for recommended dosage.
    • Do not take more than the recommended dosage.
    • Do not take someone else’s medicine.
    • If you have liver disease, ask your doctor if it is safe to take any amount of acetaminophen.
  • Tell your doctor about all your medicines.
    • Over-the-counter and herbal medicines like kava can interfere with prescription drugs.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all.
    • Ask your doctor if it is safe to consume alcoholic beverages.
  • Stay current with your vaccinations
    • Talk with your doctor about hepatitis B and A vaccines.
      • This is especially important if you have chronic liver disease, a history of any type of hepatitis infection or an increased risk of hepatitis.
  • Avoid contact with other people’s blood and body fluids.
    • You can develop hepatitis by an accidental needle sticks or improper cleanup of blood or body fluids from an infected person.
    • Do not share razor blades or toothbrushes.
  • Don’t eat wild mushrooms.
    • Wild mushrooms are often poisonous to humans (and dogs) and will cause sudden liver failure.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
    • Obesity increases the risk fatty liver, hepatitis and cirrhosis.

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