, Volume 59, Issue 8, pp 1987-1995
Date: 02 Apr 2014

Imaging Appearance in Acute Liver Failure: Correlation with Clinical and Pathology Findings

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Background and Aim

Acute liver failure (ALF) is characterized by sudden liver injury without underlying chronic liver disease. Excluding underlying cirrhosis in these patients is often difficult and liver biopsy may be impractical. We review the imaging appearance of acute hepatic failure in patients who underwent transplant and correlate these findings with clinical, laboratory and pathology parameters.


This is a retrospective review of 47 patients without known chronic liver disease who presented to three institutions between 2002 and 2010 with ALF, 46 of which underwent subsequent orthotopic liver transplantation. Pre-transplant ultrasound, computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging scans were reviewed for parenchymal homogeneity, surface nodularity and evidence of portal hypertension. Explant histopathology, laboratory values and time intervals between symptom onset to initial imaging and transplant were correlated with imaging findings.


The majority of patients with ALF had abnormal radiographic findings. Ascites was seen in 65 % of patients. Splenomegaly, collateral vessel formation and hepatofugal flow in the portal vein were present in 28, 15 and 9 % of patients, respectively. Nodular liver surface was noted in 23 % of patients, more commonly in patients who had been ill for more than 7 days. Liver surface nodularity correlated with massive hepatic necrosis on histology and wrinkled capsule on visual inspection of explanted liver specimen.


Imaging findings in ALF was variable and can resemble cirrhosis. Assessment for underlying cirrhosis in the setting of liver failure should not be based on imaging findings.