Liver Failure | Symptoms & Causes

What causes acute liver failure?

In many cases, doctors are unable to determine the cause of acute liver failure.

When the cause is known, the most common cause is taking too much acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol and other cold medications. Acetaminophen can damage the liver after one large dose or after a child takes more than the recommended dose for several days in a row.

Other prescription medications and even some herbal supplements, such as kava, ephedra, skullcap and pennyroyal, can also cause acute liver failure.

In a small number of cases, acute liver failure is caused by a viral infection such as herpes simplex or Epstein Barr.

Acetaminophen safety in children

Acetaminophen is an ingredient in Tylenol and many other cold medications, including over-the-counter and prescription drugs.

Before giving medicine to a child, always check the active ingredients listed on the label. Do not give a child more than one medicine with acetaminophen at one time.

Because children grow at different rates, a child&s weight is more important than age in determining a safe dose.

Children who weigh 23 pounds or less

  • Always check with a health care provider before giving acetaminophen to a small child.

Children who weigh 24 pounds or more

  • Follow the dosage instructions on the label.
  • If the medicine is a liquid, use the dropper or cup that came with the drug. Do not use a measuring spoon or dropper from another product that could measure an incorrect dose.

What causes chronic liver failure?

Chronic liver failure occurs when a long-term illness damages the liver. The following liver conditions can lead to chronic liver failure:

  • biliary atresia, when a child is born with blocked or damaged bile duct, the tube that bile, fluid produced by the liver, flows through on its way to the intestines
  • metabolic liver diseases like Wilson disease in which the body is unable to process copper from food and the copper builds up in the liver.
  • chronic viral hepatitis C which causes the liver to swell and encourages scar tissue to form

What are the symptoms of liver failure?

Jaundice,a yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes, it is usually the first and sometimes the only sign of liver disease. Other symptoms include:

  • confusion or disorientation
  • pain or tenderness in the upper right abdomen
  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • dark urine
  • easy bleeding
  • itching
  • small, spider-like vessels visible in the skin
  • chills

What are the complications of liver failure?

Liver encephalopathy, a drop in brain function caused by the buildup of toxic substances in the blood

Jaundice, a yellow discoloration of the skin and whites of your childs eyes due to an abnormally high level of bilirubin (bile pigment) in the bloodstream

Coagulopathy, a bleeding disorder that happens when blood does not clot and can result in excessing bleeding from even a small cut

Portal hypertension, abnormally high blood pressure in the vein that brings blood from the intestine to the liver (the portal vein). This can cause:

  • a distended abdominal cavity (ascites)
  • prominence of abdominal wall veins
  • bleeding of the varicose veins at the lower end of the esophagus or the stomach lining

Ascites, the build up of fluid in the abdominal cavity caused by fluid leaks from the vessels on the surface of the liver and intestine that can make a child feel short of breath

Hepatomegaly, an enlarged liver that may cause abdominal pain or a feeling of fullness