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An estimated one in ten Americans suffer from liver disease. There are many different liver diseases including relatively mild afflictions such as fatty liver, all the way to serious and potentially life-threatening problems such as liver cirrhosis, cancer of the liver, and hepatitis. The liver performs many vital functions, including the production of enzymes that digest fats and proteins, and others that catalyze the action of the muscles.


When a liver disease progresses to the point that these functions begin to break down, the failure of the liver proceeds through recognizable stages (as does the illness itself prior to reaching that point). Initially, liver failure commonly produces a number of symptoms including nausea, loss of apetite, fatigue, and diarrhea; also jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the eyes), abdominal swelling, pain in various parts of the body, and a discoloration of the skin similar to a rash.

Most of these symptoms can have multiple causes, making diagnosis of liver failure difficult in its early manifestations, unless the underlying liver disease has already been diagnosed. As the failure of the liver progresses, the body undergoes more serious problems. These can include confusion, disorientation, and extreme and prolonged sleepiness. There is a danger of slipping into a coma, followed by death. In this late stage of liver failure, intervention is mandatory, but in fact treatment should be pursued as soon as the early symptoms appear, or earlier if liver disease is detected in its earliest, frequently asymptomatic manifestation.

Continued below....


Most liver failure is a result of a chronic, ongoing, progressive liver disease. This is frequently the result of alcohol abuse, but may also result from obesity, as a complication of diabetes, or due to an infectious disease such as type A, B, or C viral hepititis. Continued below…

On rare occasions, however, liver failure can be an acute condition, occurring over a period that can be as short as 48 hours. In most cases, acute liver failure is a result of poisoning, frequently from an overdose of medication or of non-medicinal drugs.


When liver failure occurs due to an acute episode, depending on the specifics it may be possible to recover full liver functioning once the effects of the poisons or drugs have been reversed or flushed from the body. When the failure is due to an acute condition, it is more likely that the damage is permanent unless it is caught quite early.

Chronic liver disease can progress through several phases as well, leading up to failure of liver functioning. Fatty deposits can accumulate in the liver, or the tissues of the liver can become inflamed. (Inflammation of the liver is called hepatitis and is most commonly the result of a viral infection, but may also result from alcohol abuse and some other causes.)


As the disease progresses, the inflamed tissues can harden into fibrous masses in a process known as fibrosis. When fibrosis develops, the first stages of liver failure may also be detected. Sometimes this occurs in the inflammation stages, as well.

Continued progression sees the fibrous masses of tissue collect into large masses of hardened, nonfunctioning cells within the liver; this is full-fledged cirrhosis of the liver and is almost always accompanied by some severe degree of liver dysfunction. When any liver disease progresses to what is called the "end stage" of the illness, generically called "end stage liver disease" or ESLD, hepatic function is critically impaired and the danger of death is quite high. At that point, very aggressive treatment such as a liver transplant is absolutely mandatory if the patient is going to live.


The best way to treat liver failure is prevention, which is to say, treatment of the underlying liver disease before liver failure occurs. Various treatments may be required depending on the underlying cause. Elimination of alcohol consumption is recommended, especially if the liver disease is alcohol-related but it's a good idea even if it isn't, as alcohol can damage the liver further.

Other dietary changes may be called for in order to lose weight or to treat diabetes. A low-sodium diet and/or the use of diuretics may help to eliminate accumulated waste materials. Other treatments may be used to deal with the symptoms of liver disease. If the liver disease progresses to the end stage and severe liver failure occurs, the only treatment possible is a liver transplant. The procedure is quite risky, although advances in surgical techniques have increased the success rate to about 88% -- if a donor liver is available.

The problem is that the availability of appropriate donor livers is inadequate to the need, and so long waitings lists exist. The problem is keeping the patient alive while waiting for a liver to become available for the transplant.

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