Acute liver failure (ALF) is an uncommon disorder that leads to jaundice, coagulopathy, and multisystem organ failure. Its definition is based on the timing from onset of jaundice to encephalopathy. In 2005, ALF accounted for 6% of liver-related deaths and 7% of orthotopic liver transplants (OLT) in the United States. Several classification systems have been developed for ALF, with the King's College criteria most widely used for prediction of OLT. Specific diagnostic tests should be implemented to identify the cause of ALF, which will help to determine its treatment and prognosis. Viral hepatitis was previously reported to be the most common cause of ALF in the United States, but acetaminophen overdose and idiosyncratic drug reactions have emerged as the most frequent causes in recent studies. Malignancy is an uncommon cause of ALF, and thus imaging studies may not be useful in this setting, but liver biopsy may be beneficial in selected cases. An overall strategy for ALF should start with identifying the cause, assessing the prognosis, and early transfer to a transplantation center for suitable candidates. OLT has emerged as a life-saving procedure leading to marked improvement in survival rates. Improved surgical techniques, immunosuppression, and comprehensive care have led to an overall survival rate of approximately 65% with OLT. N-acetylcysteine is effective in ALF caused by acetaminophen overdose, with results strongly related to how soon it is given rather than the route of administration. Liver support systems show potential for the treatment of ALF, but their role needs validation in large multicenter randomized trials.
ASJC Scopus subject areas