Liver failure occurs when the liver loses its ability to function properly. This a progressive condition that causes severe damage to the liver. It may take months or even years for liver failure to develop. As the liver is a multitasking organ, it has a number of functions such as food digestion, elimination of toxic chemicals from the blood and production of important proteins. The liver is also responsible for producing bile, an alkaline compound that helps digest food.
They are 2 types of liver failure: Acute and Chronic. In acute liver failure, the liver functions deteriorate rapidly. The abrupt fall of liver function is marked by confusion, coma and stupor. In chronic liver failure, the deterioration of the liver functions occur slowly, over a period of time. Some of the early signs of this liver failure are discussed below:
Early Signs of Liver Failure
The early symptoms of chronic liver failure are similar to those occurring in other medical conditions. Hence the diagnosis of liver failure in the initial stages of development, may be difficult. In some cases, the person may not show any early symptoms. Often the symptoms appear when the liver is damaged considerably. People suffering from this condition may have eating disorders that may lead to rapid weight loss, frequent urination and excessive drinking of water. Decrease in the intake of food can lead to severe weakness and anemia. In general, the most common signs of liver problem, that may occur initially, are as follows:
Skin Color Changes
In the initial stages of liver failure, the symptoms may manifest in the form of abnormal changes in skin color. The onset of liver failure may turn the skin slightly yellow. This happens because of excess build up of yellow colored pigment, bilirubin in the skin. As we all know, bilirubin is the outcome of metabolism of red blood cells. The main job of the liver is to process bilirubin, excess of which is eliminated through urine and fecal matter. However, when liver function slowly starts declining, bilirubin levels rise in the blood and subsequently the pigment begins to accumulate underneath the skin, giving it a yellowish color.
Whatever may be the reason of liver failure, the body may initially respond with abdominal pain. This may happen because the liver has abnormally enlarged in size. The severity of abdominal discomfort will vary depending upon how much the liver has swollen. However, little enlargement of liver is unlikely to cause any abdominal pain. Due to liver enlargement, the abdominal area, especially below the ribs appears swollen.
When liver function is not up its mark, don't expect the skin to remain healthy. Itchy skin despite no signs of rash may indicate the presence of liver problems. Thus, inspite of persistent itching, the skin outwardly looks normal. So, one can say skin health takes a backseat with poor liver function.
Chronic tiredness sets in with the onset of liver damage. People whining about this persistent feeling of tiredness should consult a doctor for further diagnosis. Always feeling tiredness might indicate that progressive deterioration of liver has started. As liver health falls gradually, the body finds it difficult to cope up with day-to-day activities, resulting in low energy levels and prolonging fatigue. The patient appears disinterested and increasingly lethargic.
Talking about early symptoms of liver disease and one simply cannot forget to mention about digestion problems. Indigestion is yet another concern for patients with liver failure. As liver produces bile, that aids in digestion, medical conditions liver dysfunction can cause trouble digesting food.
Decrease in Appetite
Disturbances in the normal functioning of the liver can also diminish the desire to eat food. In fact, poor appetite is a common complaint in people diagnosed with liver problems. Loss of appetite is considered to be one of the early signs of liver failure and so cannot be ignored.
Although, frequent urination followed by unreasonable thirst has often been linked to diabetes, it can also be one of the early symptoms of liver failure. Urinating fairly often or the frequent urge to urinate is something that could well point towards liver failure. Also, the urine color does not appear normal - it is darker than usual.
Pale Colored Stool
As aforementioned, the bile, a digestive fluid manufactured by the liver gives stool its light brown color. However, liver problems may restrict production of bile, causing a change in stool color. The stool gets darker because of the bile.
Advanced Stage Liver Failure Symptoms
As the liver damage continues further, symptoms aggravate and demand immediate medical attention. It is discussed below:
Jaundice: This is a liver disease and is the main symptom of liver failure. Presence of jaundice indicates that there is a problem with the liver. In this condition, the color of the skin changes to pale yellow. The white portion of the eye may also turn yellow. When the liver is not functioning properly, it often leads to jaundice.
Increased Bruising and Bleeding: The affected person bruises and bleeds easily. The main reason being the liver's inability to produce essential coagulant proteins.
Confusion or Mental disorientation: This is often the result of the accumulation of toxins in the body.
Blood Sugar Irregularities: This happens because the liver is unable to assist the pancreas in the metabolism of carbohydrates.
Other symptoms that may be experienced in the later stage of chronic liver failure are depression, muscle tremors and even seizures.
Chronic liver failure, where the impairment of liver functions develop slowly, may be due to a number of reasons. Excessive alcohol intake is often considered the main cause of chronic liver failure. Viral infections such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C, cause damage to the liver and may lead to chronic liver failure. Other factors that greatly increase the risk of chronic liver failure are malnutrition and diseases like cirrhosis and hemochromatosis. Causes of acute liver failure include acetaminophen overdose and reactions to certain prescription drugs.
Treatment options totally depend on the cause. The treatment aims at salvaging the portion of the liver that has not been damaged. Alcohol consumption must be strictly avoided as it can further damage the liver. In case of acute liver failure caused due to an overdose of acetaminophen, treatment is given to reverse the effects. If this cannot be accomplished, liver transplant is commonly recommended, if the condition has reached the advanced stage. This procedure is often successful in treating liver failure.
On the whole, a liver function test is one of the best ways to confirm whether this triangular shaped organ is indeed not working properly. On the basis of test results, the doctor will get a clear idea about how well the liver is functioning. In order to prevent liver failure, one should drink alcohol only in moderation and should be immunized with the hepatitis vaccine. One must also have a nutritious diet and should practice proper hygiene to prevent diseases.