The liver plays an important role in the digestion process and filtration of toxins from the body. In rare cases, a person with no history of liver problems may suddenly begin to show symptoms of decreased liver functioning. If this deteriorates quickly over a few days or weeks, it is known as acute liver failure. This condition is also known as fulminant hepatic failure. If left untreated, it can cause a number of fatal complications including excessive pressure on the brain and uncontrollable bleeding.
Treatment for acute liver failure depends on the factors triggering the condition.
- If it is caused by an overdose of certain medication, the condition can be reversed. In such cases, medication is the first form of treatment. Similarly, acute liver failure caused by poisoning may also be reversed with medication. These medications help control and reverse the effect of the toxins and thus reduce liver damage. Acute viral hepatitis is the commonest cause of acute liver failure in India.
- If the condition cannot be reversed, a liver transplant may be the only available form of treatment. This surgery is considered a relatively safe procedure and has proved to be very effective in treating acute liver failure.
- A liver transplant involves removing the damaged liver and replacing it with a healthy liver from a cadaver donor or part of a healthy liver from a living donor. Earlier it was only children who could be treated by transplanting a part of liver donated by a living family member. But in the recent years, there are many patients that are being treated by the same procedure.
- By receiving a liver transplant from a living donor, patients do not have to be placed on the waitlist for a liver and thus have a higher survival rate. To be a living donor, the person must have the same blood type as the patient, must be healthy enough to undergo surgery and must have a liver that is large enough to be divided into two parts.
A liver transplant procedure is performed while the patient is under general anaesthesia. Hospitalization is required after the procedure for the doctor to see that the incision is healing properly and to ensure that the body does not reject the transplanted liver. To reduce chances of a rejection, the patient is given medication to suppress the immune system. Hence, it is very important for the patients to stay in a hygienic environment and reduce their exposure to infections.