Acute liver failure is a rare and severe consequence of abrupt hepatocyte injury, and can evolve over days or weeks to a lethal outcome. A variety of insults to liver cells result in a consistent pattern of rapid-onset elevation of aminotransferases, altered mentation, and disturbed coagulation. The absence of existing liver disease distinguishes acute liver failure from decompensated cirrhosis or acute-on-chronic liver failure. Causes of acute liver failure include paracetamol toxicity, hepatic ischaemia, viral and autoimmune hepatitis, and drug-induced liver injury from prescription drugs, and herbal and dietary supplements. Diagnosis requires careful review of medications taken, and serological testing for possible viral exposure. Because of its rarity, acute liver failure has not been studied in large, randomised trials, and most treatment recommendations represent expert opinion. Improvements in management have resulted in lower mortality, although liver transplantation, used in nearly 30% of patients with acute liver failure, still provides a life-saving alternative to medical management.
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