Liver failure is caused by cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver. Cirrhosis is a chronic, progressive disease in which the liver slowly loses its ability to function as normal liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue. As part of the healing process, scar tissue forms and replaces normal liver cells and tissue.
As liver function is gradually lost, some or all of these signs of liver disease may appear:
- Jaundice (yellow coloring of the skin and eyes)
- Dark, tea-colored urine
- Clay-colored stools
- Weight loss and muscle wasting
- Tendency to bruise and bleed easily
- Ascites (fluid in the abdomen)
- Night blindness
- Decreased energy and fatigue
- Mental confusion, which may progress to coma
- Vomiting blood or passing blood in the stools
- Edema (swelling)
Cirrhosis is ultimately a terminal condition. Although there are treatments that may slow down damage to the liver, the liver will eventually fail to respond to these treatments. When this occurs, liver transplantation may be necessary.
The most common causes of cirrhosis in adults are chronic hepatitis, primary sclerosing cholangitis, primary biliary cirrhosis, hepatic vein thrombosis, chronic alcohol abuse, and cryptogenic or unknown causes.