8 Causes of Liver Disease and Liver Failure

Regardless of whether it takes place over many years or a few weeks, liver failure is an absolutely devastating health development that, if left untreated, can result in the death of a patient. There are essentially two types of liver failure: acute, which can emerge over the course of a very short period (such as a few weeks or even less), and chronic, which tends to last many years.

Although acute and chronic liver failure patients often experience similar symptoms, the causes of these two conditions — in addition to their treatments — can be unique. But, because the end result, death, can be the same, it’s crucial that everyone fully understand the causes of all types of liver failure.

1. Excessive acetaminophen

Many of us reach for acetaminophen — better known as Tylenol, is brand name — at the first sign of minor or moderate pain, like a headache or back pain. And in most cases there’s nothing wrong with doing this, so long as one follows the guidelines for taking this over-the-counter drug.

But excessive use of acetaminophen can be a big problem. In fact, even just a single large dose of Tylenol can have a significant impact on the liver and its functionality. Should an individual take an excessive amount of acetaminophen over time, they could do enough damage to cause acute liver failure. In some cases, this excessive use of Tylenol could result in the need for a liver transplant.

2. Prescription medication overdose

There are a number of prescription medications that, if taken in excessive quantities, can cause major damage to the liver, even leading to acute liver failure. Some of these prescription medications are fairly common, such as antibiotics, which are used to treat a wide range of ailments and are prescribed to people of all ages.

Other prescription medications that pose a threat if consumed in excess including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as Ibuprofen and Naproxen) and medications designed to suppress seizures and convulsions. To prevent putting your family in danger, be sure to ask your physician about the threats posed by any medications present in your home.

3. Herbal supplements

Many people feel more comfortable turning to herbal supplements and other, more natural remedies when seeking to treat various health conditions. And it’s true that many herbal supplements are very safe and, in some cases, come with far fewer side effects than far more complicated drugs prescribed by doctors.

But herbal supplements can present serious health problems, too, especially if consumed in excess. For example, consuming too much pennyroyal, ephedra, kava, or skullcap can result in acute liver failure. Be sure to thoroughly research any herbal supplement before taking it.

4. Hepatitis and other viruses

There are many different types of hepatitis — there’s hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis E. These are viruses that can have a dramatic (and negative) impact on one’s health in a variety of different ways. One thing hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis E all have in common, though: they can all cause acute liver failure if left untreated.

There are a number of other viruses that can do severe damage to the liver, including Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus and herpes simplex virus. If you’ve been diagnosed with any of these viruses, be sure to have a candid conversation with your family physician about taking steps to prevent your liver from sustaining catastrophic damage.

5. Disease

There are a number of diseases that, by targeting parts of the body in and around the liver, can lead to chronic or even acute liver damage. For example, autoimmune diseases that attack liver cells and cause serious inflammation, can result in acute liver failure.

Two other diseases that pose problems for the liver: Budd-Chiari syndrome and Wilson’s disease. Budd-Chiari syndrome is a vascular disease that affects blood flow through the liver and can result in serious vein blockages, while Wilson’s disease is a rare metabolic disease that, if left untreated, can cause acute liver failure.

6. Genetic problems

As is the case with many other health conditions, genetics plays a huge role in determining the chance that one will develop some kind of issue affecting the liver. In fact, it’s possible that just a single abnormal gene inherited from a parent could result in chronic or acute liver failure.

Liver diseases linked to genetics and potential liver failure include hemochromatosis, Wilson’s disease, hyperoxaluria and oxalosis. Genetics can also be responsible for the development of cancers affecting the liver, such as bile duct cancer and, of course, liver cancer.

7. Alcohol abuse

Drinking alcohol to excess can present an individual with a wide range of health problems, from obesity to the damaging of major organs, including the brain, stomach, and intestines.

Arguably, however, the organ most significantly impacted by chronic alcohol abuse is the liver. This is because it falls on the liver to process alcohol once it’s introduced to the body. Over time, this responsibility can damage the liver, leaving it struggling to perform its regular functions. Just as concerning, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to liver failure, forcing the patient to seek a liver transplant.

8. Recreational drugs

It may seem like many recreational drugs are illegal because they can cause people to act in strange or dangerous ways. But the reality is that many of these drugs can be incredible harmful to the human body and, if taken in excess, can lead to liver failure.

Some of the drugs that present serious problems for the liver include heroin, opioid-based painkillers (such as Oxycontin), cocaine, ecstasy, and methamphetamine. Although it’s best to avoid these drugs at all costs, the reality is that many, many people use these substances on a daily basis. Drug users worried about the condition of their liver — or other vital organs — should not hesitate to discuss the issue with a physician.


Emily Lockhart

Emily Lockhart is a weight loss expert who specializes in healthy living. She is dedicated to providing health-conscious individuals with the information they need to make great lifestyle choices that will make them look and feel better. In her spare time, Emily teaches Pilates at a local studio and enjoys activities like hiking, rowing and biking.