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World J Gastroenterol. 2013 Nov 7;19(41):7069-77. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v19.i41.7069.

Advances in the management of acute liver failure.

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Da-Wei Wang, Department of ICU, Weihai Municipal Hospital, Weihai 264200, Shandong Province, China.


Acute liver failure (ALF) is an uncommon but dramatic clinical syndrome characterized by hepatic encephalopathy and a bleeding tendency due to abrupt loss of liver function caused by massive or submassive liver necrosis in a patient with a previously healthy liver. The causes of ALF encompass a wide variety of toxic, viral, metabolic, vascular and autoimmune insults to the liver, and identifying the correct cause can be difficult or even impossible. Many patients with ALF develop a cascade of serious complications involving almost every organ system, and death is mostly due to multi-organ failure, hemorrhage, infection, and intracranial hypertension. Fortunately, the outcome of ALF has been improved in the last 3 decades through the specific treatment for the disease of certain etiology, and the advanced intensive care management. For most severely affected patients who fail to recover after treatment, rapid evaluation for transfer to a transplantation center and consideration for liver transplantation is mandatory so that transplantation can be applied before contraindications develop. This review focuses on the recent advances in the understanding of various contributing etiologies, the administration of etiology-specific treatment to alleviate the liver injury, and the management of complications (e.g., encephalopathy, coagulopathy, cardiovascular instability, respiratory failure, renal failure, sepsis and metabolic disturbance) in patients with ALF. Assessment of the need for liver transplantation is also presented.


Acute liver failure; Cerebral edema; Liver transplantation

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