What causes liver failure?

Liver failure is due to underlying liver diseases that often cause progressive damage to the liver. Liver disease generally begins with inflammation and enlargement of the liver, which may be reversed with medical treatment in some cases. Left untreated, liver inflammation leads to fibrosis (scarring) of the liver tissue that progresses and ultimately replaces healthy liver tissue. Scarred liver tissue cannot function normally, but prompt treatment may still reverse damage in some cases.

Scarred liver tissue that is not treated progresses to cirrhosis, a condition in which the liver is permanently damaged. If advancement of cirrhosis is not slowed or stopped, large areas of the liver will no longer function, causing liver failure.

Underlying diseases, disorders and conditions that can cause liver failure include:

  • Alcohol abuse

  • Autoimmune hepatitis (form of hepatitis in which the immune system attacks the liver)

  • Biliary atresia and secondary biliary cirrhosis (conditions that block bile ducts, leading to bile buildup in the liver and liver damage)

  • Chronic hepatitis B or C

  • Congestive heart failure

  • Cystic fibrosis (inherited disease that causes a buildup of mucus in the liver, lungs and other organs)

  • Glycogen storage diseases

  • Hemochromatosis (excessive level of iron in the body that causes liver damage)

  • Malnutrition

  • Overdose of certain drugs, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol)

  • Poisoning or toxic exposure, such as ingesting poisonous mushrooms or arsenic exposure

  • Severe acute hepatitis A

  • Wilson’s disease (inherited disease that causes excessive retention of copper)

What are the risk factors for liver failure?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing liver disease, which can lead to liver failure. Risk factors include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Coronary artery disease (due to atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, or other causes)
  • Diabetes (chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to use sugar for energy)
  • Exposure to certain toxins, such as arsenic
  • Exposure to hepatitis
  • High triglyceride levels in the blood
  • Long-term treatment with corticosteroids
  • Obesity

Reducing your risk of liver failure

Not all people who are at risk for liver failure will develop the condition. However, you can lower your risk of developing liver failure by:

  • Avoiding risk factors for hepatitis, such as having unprotected sex with more than one partner or sharing needles for tattooing or drug use

  • Not drinking alcohol or limiting alcohol intake to one drink per day for a woman and two drinks per day for a man

  • Seeking regular medical care and following your treatment plan for chronic diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, and coronary artery disease


What is liver failure?

Liver failure is a life-threatening condition in which there is a severe deterioration of liver function. The liver is a vital organ located in the right upper area of your abdomen under the ribs. Liver failure is caused by liver damage, which makes it difficult or impossible for the liver to function normally in processes that are critical to life and your overall health including:

... Read more about liver failureintroduction


What are the symptoms of liver failure?

Early symptoms of liver failure are often not specific and may be confused with symptoms of many other conditions, such as indigestion, viral gastroenteritis, or chronic fatigue syndrome. Early symptoms may include:


How is liver failure treated?

Scar tissue formed in the liver due to advanced liver disease, which causes liver failure, is permanent. The goal of treatment is to stop or slow the progression of damage to the liver and minimize and quickly treat any other complications and coexisting conditions, such as portal hypertension and hemorrhage. Treatment plans include a multifaceted and individualized approach that varies dependi... Read more about liver failuretreatments

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 5, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Digestive System

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