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J Clin Gastroenterol. 2001 Sep;33(3):191-8.

Acute liver failure.

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  • 1Division of Gastroenterology, Section of Hepatology and Liver Transplantation, Medical College of Virginia, Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia 23298-0341, USA.


Acute liver failure (ALF) is defined as hepatic encephalopathy complicating acute liver injury. The most common etiologies are acute viral hepatitis A and B, medication overdose (e.g., acetaminophen), idiosyncratic drug reactions, ingestion of other toxins (e.g., amanita mushroom poisoning), and metabolic disorders (e.g., Reye's syndrome). Despite advances in intensive care management, mortality continues to be high (40-80%) and is partly related to ALF's complications, such as cerebral edema, sepsis, hypoglycemia, gastrointestinal bleeding, and acute renal failure. Several prognostic models have been developed to determine which patients will spontaneously recover. Treatment is directed at early recognition of the complications and general supportive measures. The only proven therapy for those who are unlikely to recover is liver transplantation. Therefore, recognition of ALF is paramount, and urgent referral to a transplant center is critical to assess transplantation status.

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