What Causes Liver Failure?

I got interested in learning about liver failure when one of my students complained about liver pain and had to be rushed to a medical center immediately. Doctors reported the boy to have suffered liver failure. Long story short, the young lad underwent weeks of medical care and is now fully recovered. He was suffering from acute liver failure caused by hepatitis B.

My search for the causes of liver failure didn’t end there. My curiosity aroused, I sought to find more answers. To my surprise, there are a number of things that can cause this health problem.

However, before getting into the causes of liver failure, perhaps its best to discuss what liver failure is. This is a condition whereby the liver cells are completely damaged such that the whole organ cannot function normally. There are two types of liver failure. The first type is chronic liver failure which occurs gradually and can go undetected for sometime. The second type is acute liver failure which occurs rapidly sometimes within hours.

Now onto the known causes of liver failure.

Viral infections

Hepatitis is one of the main causes of liver failure. Viral hepatitis A, B and C are the common viruses known to cause acute liver failure. However, if detected early, the viral infection can be managed and, the liver can even restore itself as was the case with my student.

Excessive alcohol consumption

Alcohol accounts for over 30% of liver related diseases. Excess and long term consumption of alcohol can eventually lead to liver failure. There are three alcohol related conditions that can lead to liver failure.

The first is the fatty liver disease which is characterized by the gradual build up of fat on liver cells. This is a reversible condition whose treatment is the avoidance of alcohol. The second condition is alcoholic hepatitis. It can lead to either acute or chronic liver failure. This condition is usually characterized by swelling and abdominal pain. If mild, the condition is reversible. The third condition is cirrhosis. This is a non reversible condition and, is characterized by hardening of the soft liver cells.

Drug and herb reactions

At times, the liver might not be able to effectively break down chemicals found in prescription drugs and herbs into harmless compounds. This leads to a buildup of such chemicals within the organ leading to conditions such as drug induced hepatitis. The end result can be liver damage and liver failure.

Hereditary conditions

During my research, I was surprised to find that even hereditary diseases can lead to liver failure. There are three main hereditary diseases which are associated with liver failure. The first is Wilson’s disease which suppresses the liver’s ability to get rid of copper. The result is copper poisoning of the liver which can lead to liver failure. The second disease is Hereditary Hemachromatosis. Like Wilson’s disease, this condition suppresses the liver’s ability to get rid of iron. The third disease likely to cause liver failure is alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency which suppresses protein breakdown within liver cells.