Causes of Liver Failure – The Reasons Behind Liver Transplants

Liver transplant surgery is performed when acute liver failure occurs and all other modes of treatment are ruled out. Since the liver is an integral part of the human anatomy, it is pivotal to the maintenance and proper functioning of the human body.

When the liver ceases to perform its functions like fighting infections and breaking down food to convert it into energy, it leads to the slow degradation of other organs as well.

Liver Failure Causes - Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is one the main causes behind liver failure

If the liver is not in a condition to perform the necessary metabolic and synthetic functions that keep the human body functioning, the condition is called liver failure in medical parlance.

Types of Liver Failure

The types of liver problems and the reasons behind liver failure are listed below:

  • Chronic Liver Failure 

    This is caused over long durations of time. The damage can occur for a period of anywhere between months and years. The damage caused is sometimes irreversible because of the long duration of its decay. 

  • Acute Liver Failure 

    This is caused in a very small period of time because of extensive damage to the liver and its tissues. 

  • Liver Cancer 

    Cancer cells that multiply in the liver and cause cancer can also lead to liver failure.

Causes of Liver Failure 

Liver Failure Causes - Alcoholic Liver Disease
Roughly around 25000 Mexicans and Americans die every year due to Alcoholic Liver Disease

A more detailed explanation about the liver failure causes has been given below:

  • Alcoholic Liver Disease

Alcohol contains a number of toxins. The function of the liver is to filter out these poisonous toxins from the bloodstream. Some of the liver cells are lost in the process of filtration. In the initial stages, this does not pose a problem as the liver has the ability to create new cells when old ones die.

Over a long duration of time however, the more the liver has to filter the blood, the more cells die. The liver gradually loses its ability to produce new cells and the dead, decaying cells will end up scarring the liver. This condition is known as Cirrhosis. If the scarring of the liver is left untreated for long, it will finally reach a stage of liver failure.

  • Hepatitis C

This is a virus that is transferred through an affected person’s blood. It is also possible for this disease to be transferred through sharing bodily fluids. For instance, most drug abusers tend to share their needles. If one of them is affected by Hepatitis C, it is highly likely that the others will share the same fate. Sexual intercourse with an affected partner is yet another cause for the spread of Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C results in the swelling and scarring of the liver, which is likely to cause long term liver damage. Studies show that at least one out of seven people who suffer from Hepatitis C will subsequently also suffer from liver failure, even though the person might have contracted the infection more than 20 to 30 years previously. As of today, no vaccine for Hepatitis C has been invented.

In the United Kingdom, surveys conducted by the UK Healthcare Centre have shown that there is 15 to 25% chance of the liver being rejected because of Hepatitis C resurfacing.

Liver Failure Causes - Hepatitis C
MAC Granulomatous Hepatitis can cause abnormal liver function
  • Primary Biliary Cirrhosis

The buildup of bile in the liver is the cause for a chronic liver disease called PBC. Bile is a greenish liquid secreted inside the liver and its main function is to help digest fats. Bile ducts are passages present in the liver, and these aid in the flow of bile out of the organ.

PBC is caused when the body’s immune system attacks the liver, causing a buildup of bile inside the organ. This is a rather rare condition. Studies in the field show that one among every 8000 people suffers from PBC. A transplantation unit has recorded that one out of four-five liver transplantation cases has a background of PBC related issues, making it the most common cause behind liver transplants.

  • Hepatitis B

Like Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B is caused by the spread of the Hepatitis B virus either during unprotected sex or through sharing an affected needle. It is not very rampant in the western hemisphere as only one in every 1000 people in the UK is said to be affected by this virus. The initial symptoms include vomiting, nausea and headache.

Around 2-10% will suffer from chronic liver damage, as the virus stays in the host cells for a long time though they may not show any symptoms apart from the initial symptoms. Another 20% will face liver failure. Hepatitis B can be countered with the help of vaccines. 

  • Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis

This is a chronic liver disease which affects people in the age group of 30-50. It is a rare condition and only one in 16,000 to 17,000 people is known to be affected by it. As is the case with most chronic liver diseases, it can cause liver failure after many years. 

  • Autoimmune Hepatitis

This is characterized by chronic inflammation of the liver, and the liver is attacked by white blood cells. The reason for this condition has not yet been discerned. The condition leads to liver failure if the inflammation festers over long periods of time. It is extremely rare as only one person in 100,000 is diagnosed with it. 

  • Biliary Atresia

Biliary Atresia is a condition in which a child is born without a bile duct. This is similar to Primary Biliary Cirrhosis, but in children. Around one in about 18,000 children is known to be born with Biliary Atresia. If the scarring of the liver is too much, it leads to liver failure and the child will need a liver transplant.

  • Drug Overdose

Statistically, one in 300,000 individuals in a year is affected by this condition. Acute liver failure generally occurs in teenagers and young adults. The primary reason is a drug overdose, and this can be either deliberate or accidental. For example, most people suffering from this condition in UK were found to have overdosed on paracetamol, which when taken in high doses will take its toll on the liver leading to liver failure.

  • Liver Cancer

Cancer that starts in the liver and spreads elsewhere in the body is known as primary liver cancer. This is a very rare but extremely aggressive type of cancer and studies have shown that most people suffering from liver cancer are generally well over 60 years of age. Almost 3,000 cases of liver cancer in England are diagnosed every year.

Liver transplants are carried out in hospitals and healthcare clinics on an everyday basis and the procedure is an expensive one. It is recommended that you enquire about liver donors and other options regarding liver transplants at your nearest hospital in order to get the practitioner’s perspective. Your doctor will recommend a liver transplant after conducting a liver function test to identify the liver disease symptoms. Your practitioner will also educate you on some liver transplant facts, living donor liver transplantsliver transplant complications, and transplant rejection.