Acute liver failure occurs when liver cells are damaged significantly and no longer able to function. Acute liver failure has many potential causes, including:

  • Acetaminophen overdose. Taking too much acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the United States. Acute liver failure can occur if you take a very large dose of acetaminophen all at once, or it can occur if you take higher-than-recommended doses every day for several days, especially in people with chronic liver disease.
  • Prescription medications. Some prescription medications, including antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and anticonvulsants, can cause acute liver failure.
  • Herbal supplements. Herbal drugs and supplements, including kava, ephedra, skullcap and pennyroyal, have been linked to acute liver failure.
  • Hepatitis and other viruses. Hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis E can cause acute liver failure. Other viruses that can cause acute liver failure include Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus and herpes simplex virus.
  • Toxins. Toxins that can cause acute liver failure include the poisonous wild mushroom Amanita phalloides, which is sometimes mistaken for edible species.
  • Autoimmune disease. Liver failure can be caused by autoimmune hepatitis — a disease in which your immune system attacks liver cells, causing inflammation and injury.
  • Diseases of the veins in the liver. Vascular diseases, such as Budd-Chiari syndrome, can cause blockages to form in the veins of the liver and lead to acute liver failure.
  • Metabolic disease. Rare metabolic diseases, such as Wilson's disease and acute fatty liver of pregnancy, infrequently cause acute liver failure.
  • Cancer. Cancer that begins in your liver or cancer that spreads to your liver from other places in your body can cause your liver to fail.

Many cases of acute liver failure have no apparent cause.

Jul. 02, 2011