Acute liver disease

Hepatic disease. Acute liver disease includes conditions like acute hepatitis and acute fatty liver of pregnancy (AFLP)

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What is acute liver disease?

Acute liver disease occurs when onset is sudden and symptoms can be severe but last for a short period. When the liver stops functioning properly, this can — in rare instances —lead to liver failure.

Examples of acute liver disease include acute viral hepatitis, acute alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) and acute fatty liver of pregnancy (AFLP).

Need to know

In acute viral hepatitis, you may have no symptoms at all, or you may have symptoms such as:

  • loss of appetite
  • fever
  • nausea and vomiting
  • pain or tenderness where your liver is
  • jaundice
  • dark urine

In alcohol-related hepatitis, your liver becomes inflamed, swollen and tender. It can affect you suddenly, after a period of binge drinking for example, and can cause your liver to fail.

Some women develop a type of fatty liver in the final trimester of pregnancy ‒ this is acute fatty liver of pregnancy (AFLP). Symptoms are often non-specific, such as:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • lack of appetite
  • abdominal pain and indigestion
  • fatigue
  • jaundice
  • excessive thirst

Your consultant may ask you about your symptoms, if any. If, for instance, hepatitis A is suspected, they may ask if you have been travelling. A blood test will be done to check for antibodies, and liver function tests (LFTs), a type of blood test, to check for liver inflammation may also be required.

Acute fatty liver of pregnancy (AFLP) has been linked to an inherited enzyme deficiency called long chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase (LCHAD). Your consultant may ask you and your partner about both your medical and family history. You may also be advised to do LFTs, as well as an ultrasound, MRI or CT scan in order to detect any liver abnormality.

Depending on your diagnosis, your consultant will discuss your treatment options with you and help to determine the best approach for you.

If you have mild acute viral hepatitis:

  • You'll probably recover in four to eight weeks with no special treatment.
  • You may be advised not to drink alcohol or take certain drugs until you are well.

For severe acute viral hepatitis, you may need:

  • To be cared for in the hospital.
  • Antiviral medicines to help kill the virus.

If you have AFLP, hospitalisation is usually required so that your blood clotting and glucose levels can be monitored, in preparation for your baby's delivery. Birth by caesarean may be recommended.

Patient stories

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.