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How is liver failure diagnosed?

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Quick Answer

Doctors diagnose liver failure using symptoms, a physical examination of the patient, and the results of blood tests. They classify liver failure that occurs slowly over a course of months or years as chronic, and that which occurs rapidly within a few days as acute, according to the Consumer Version of the Merck Manual. There must be damage to a large portion of the organ before liver failure occurs.

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In the early stages of liver failure, the symptoms, such as nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite and diarrhea, are characteristic of many different diseases, according to WebMD. However, as the disease progresses, the characteristic symptoms of jaundice and swollen abdomen become more apparent. As the disease continues, the patient displays symptoms of mental confusion and may become comatose.

With early diagnosis, it is sometimes possible for doctors to reverse liver failure, reports WebMD. If a patient is experiencing liver failure due to an overdose of acetaminophen, treatment is sometimes successful. Treating an underlying viral infection may allow recovery of the liver after the virus is gone.

It is possible to reduce the risk of liver failure by taking steps to prevent hepatitis and cirrhosis, advises WebMD. Hepatitis vaccines and the immunoglobulin shot help to prevent the disease. Avoiding the sharing of personal items and needles can also prevent it. Limiting alcohol consumption protects the liver from cirrhosis.

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