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Acute Liver Failure

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 2, 2022.

Acute liver failure occurs when your liver is damaged and suddenly stops working properly. This may cause damage to other tissues or organs, such as your brain and kidneys. Acute liver failure can become life-threatening.

Abdominal Organs


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.

An arterial line

is a tube placed into an artery (blood vessel), usually in the wrist or groin. An arterial line may be used for measuring your blood pressure or for taking blood.

CVP line:

A CVP line is also called a central line. It is an IV put into a large blood vessel near your collarbone, in your neck, or in your groin. The CVP line may be used to give medicines or IV fluids. It may also be hooked up to a monitor. The monitor records your blood pressure and hydration (fluid levels).


  • Antibiotics help treat or prevent a bacterial infection.
  • Antifungals help treat or prevent a fungal infection.
  • Antivirals help treat or prevent a viral infection. Antiviral medicine may also be given to control symptoms of a viral infection that cannot be cured.
  • N-acetyl cysteine will be given if your acute liver failure is caused by an acetaminophen overdose.
  • Steroids may be given to decrease inflammation.
  • Blood pressure medicine may be needed to increase your blood pressure.
  • Lactulose helps lower your ammonia levels. This medicine may cause frequent diarrhea.


  • Intake and output may be measured. Healthcare providers will keep track of the amount of liquid you are getting. They also may need to know how much you are urinating. Ask healthcare providers if they need to measure or collect your urine.
  • A Foley catheter is a tube put into your bladder to drain urine into a bag. Keep the bag below your waist. This will prevent urine from flowing back into your bladder and causing an infection or other problems. Also, keep the tube free of kinks so the urine will drain properly. Do not pull on the catheter. This can cause pain and bleeding, and may cause the catheter to come out.
  • A glucose meter tests the amount of sugar in your blood. This test may be done several times a day.
  • A neurologic exam can show how well your brain works during your illness. Healthcare providers will check how your pupils (black dots in the center of each eye) react to light. Providers may check your memory and how easily you wake up.


  • A liver biopsy is a procedure that is done to remove a small piece of your liver. It is sent to a lab for tests. Healthcare providers will numb the area and put a needle through the wall of your abdomen or between your ribs. The needle is put into the liver and a small piece is taken out.
  • Blood tests show liver and kidney function. They may also show signs of infection. A blood test may also be done to check how quickly your blood clots. The level of acetaminophen in your blood will be checked if you had an overdose.
  • An ultrasound or CT may show liver inflammation. You may be given contrast liquid to help your liver show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.


  • IV fluids treat dehydration and help increase your blood pressure.
  • Fresh frozen plasma transfusion is also called FFP. Plasma makes up part of your blood. It contains clotting factors that help control and stop bleeding. You may need FFP to help stop bleeding in your body.
  • You may need extra oxygen if your blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. You may get oxygen through a mask placed over your nose and mouth or through small tubes placed in your nostrils. Ask your healthcare provider before you take off the mask or oxygen tubing.
  • A liver transplant may be needed if your liver is badly damaged. All or part of your damaged liver is removed or replaced with a healthy liver from a donor.
  • A ventilator is a machine that gives you oxygen and breathes for you when you cannot breathe well on your own. An endotracheal (ET) tube is put into your mouth or nose and attached to the ventilator. You may need a trach if an ET tube cannot be placed. A trach is a tube put through an incision and into your windpipe.


Acute liver failure can cause problems with your breathing, kidneys, or heart. It can also cause heavy bleeding. You are at an increased risk for infections. Your brain may swell and you could go into a coma. Any of these problems may can be life-threatening.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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