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Acute liver failure

Opinion statement

Acute liver failure (ALF) is an uncommon medical emergency whose rapid progression and high mortality demand early diagnosis and expert management, including immediate transfer of any potential case to facilities for intensive care and orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT). All patients with ALF must be screened aggressively for acetaminophen toxicity (history, serum levels, “hyperacute” presentation with renal failure), for other drugs, and viral hepatitis; rare causes of ALF should also be considered. After an acetaminophen overdose, N-acetylcysteine must be given as early as possible, preferably in the emergency room, but any patient with ALF should promptly receive N-acetylcysteine if there is suspicion of acetaminophen toxicity irrespective of the time of ingestion. Supportive care for all patients with ALF includes adequate enteral nutrition, aggressive screening and treatment of infection, prophylactic broad-spectrum antibiotics, and antifungal agents. Sedation with propofol is given for severe agitation or mechanical ventilation. With advanced coma grades, intensive care is needed with hemodynamic monitoring, ventilatory support, continuous renal replacement for renal failure, and intracranial pressure monitoring. Intracranial hypertension is treated with mannitol and/or acute short-term hyperventilation, but if the patient is refractory to treatment, mild-moderate hypothermia is achieved by a cooling blanket that is continued throughout OLT. Barbiturate coma is only used in refractory cases as the last treatment modality. Seizures are aggressively treated with phenytoin, with additional diazepam as needed. Candidacy and activation for OLT should be completed as early as possible in the course of ALF, especially in “hyperacute” cases such as acetaminophen toxicity. The final decision to proceed with OLT is made when a donor organ becomes available. King’s College Hospital criteria for OLT are still the best prognostic assessment for fatal outcome in ALF, but the criteria fail to identify some patients who will die.

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Hay, J.E. Acute liver failure. Curr Treat Options Gastro 7, 459–468 (2004).

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  • Cerebral Edema
  • Orthotopic Liver Trans
  • Cerebral Perfusion Pressure
  • Acute Liver Failure
  • Fulminant Hepatic Failure