What is Liver Failure?

Home / Liver Medically Reviewed by Steven Daniels, MD

Liver failure refers to damage done to the liver by medications and chemicals. The liver is an essential organ to the human body. Located on the right side of the body behind the ribs, the liver stores nutrients and produces proteins important to remain healthy. One of the main functions of the liver is to remove toxic substances from the bloodstream. This process may be interrupted if toxins begin to enter the bloodstream at a rate faster than the liver's ability to break them down, and this can cause liver toxicity.

Generally, the liver takes harmful substances entering the blood stream and purifies them until they are harmless to the body. In this process, toxins are removed from the blood and converted in a fashion that they may be eliminated from the body naturally. Waste products are either converted into bile, a substance produced by the liver which helps in the digestion and absorption of fats, to be removed in stools or it is filtered back into the bloodstream to be expelled in urine. Normally, this prevents liver toxicity, because waste products are removed as they come in. Excessive consumption of dangerous substances can overwhelm the liver's purification ability and the toxins may begin to take over, creating a poisonous environment in the liver.

Drug-induced liver toxicity is one possible way for this situation to occur. Drug toxicity refers to damage done to the liver by medications. This may include prescription medicines, over-the-counter medications, supplements and recreational drugs. Some of these substances can contain ingredients harmful to the liver. For instance, some over-the-counter and prescription medications contain acetaminophen, an analgesic or pain reliever, and if taken in large quantities over an extensive period of time, it may cause significant damage to the liver.

Chemical toxicity is another way in which the liver may be damaged. One of the most general causes of liver toxicity is excessive alcohol consumption. Usually, the liver is able to break down alcohol in the bloodstream and filter it. This generally makes the potentially harmful chemical harmless. If a person consumes very large amounts of alcohol or other toxic chemical, the liver will eventually be damaged, as it will not be able to filter the toxins out as quickly as they are being absorbed into the body.

The symptoms of liver toxicity may vary according to the level of damage done. One symptom of toxicity can be jaundice or yellowing of the eyes and skin. The liver may also become enlarged. A loss of appetite, fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain and vomiting may also be experienced.

Any signs of liver toxicity should be investigated by a health care professional. Toxicity can severely hinder liver function if not treated properly. The most essential goal of the health care provider will be to prevent liver failure. Individuals can help prevent this condition by eliminating the consumption of harmful medicines and chemicals known to damage the liver.