When the liver fails

When the liver fails

SINGAPORE - Liver failure happens when large parts of the organ become damaged beyond repair and it is no longer able to function.

It is life-threatening and demands urgent medical care.

Most often, liver failure occurs gradually over many years.

But a rare condition known as acute liver failure occurs in as little as 48 hours and can be hard to detect initially.

The most common causes of chronic liver failure include hepatitis (B and C), cirrhosis (irreversible scarring of the liver), hemochromatosis (an inherited disorder that causes the body to absorb and store too much iron) and long-term alcohol consumption.

In children, it is caused by biliary atresia, a condition which begins soon after birth, where the bile ducts fail to develop normally and are unable to drain bile from the liver.

Early symptoms of liver failure include nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue and diarrhoea. These can develop into jaundice, mental disorientation or confusion and even coma "should the condition worsen".

For liver failure resulting from long-term deterioration, the initial treatment is to save whatever part of the liver is still functioning.

Waiting list

If this is not possible, then a liver transplant is required.

As of March, more than 500 patients with organ failure are still waiting for donor organs.

Of these, 448 are on the National Kidney Transplant waiting list while on dialysis, while 28 are in the queue for new livers, six for hearts and 22 for corneas.

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