Understanding Liver Failure

Document created by mcunningham Employee on Dec 27, 2016Last modified by ssnider on Jan 14, 2017
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Information for patients and families living with End-Stage Liver Disease

The liver is an organ with many functions. It helps to break down toxins and waste products in the body. It is also the organ that stores vitamins, minerals and sugar. It helps to form portions of the body’s blood and the products that help the blood to clot.


What causes Liver Disease?

There are several things that may decrease the function of the liver. Some diseases that may affect the function of the liver are hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. The liver function may also be affected by a virus, poisons, chemicals or the use of some medications.


What are the symptoms?

There are some symptoms that are common. Not every patient will have every symptom and some patients may have symptoms not listed. You should discuss any symptom with your nurse or medical provider.

  • Jaundice—a yellowing of the skin
  • Nausea or vomiting—may have traces of blood
  • Constipation or diarrhea—may be light in color or clay colored
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Ascites—swelling, bloating or distention of the stomach area
  • Edema or swelling
  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive urination—urine may be tea-colored
  • Poor appetite or weight loss
  • Pain in the right side of the stomach area or tightness in the back
  • Skin rashes or “itchy” skin
  • Bruise easily, nosebleeds, or bleeding of gums
  • Change in personality or mental functioning
  • Depression or mood swings
  • Headache
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Dizziness
  • Short tempered or easily irritated


What can be done to help with managing the symptoms?

There may be different medications that your loved one will be taking to help with symptoms such as pain, itching of skin, nausea or constipation. Keeping a notebook or a record of symptoms, activities and medications given while taking care of your loved can be very helpful for your nurse or healthcare provider.

  • Rest often between activities. Often someone with liver disease tires easily. Frequent rest periods will help with the general weakness and fatigue they may feel. Allowing your loved one to elevate their feet several times a day may help with the swelling of the feet and legs.
  • Small frequent meals. Often because of the nausea, ascites or “bloated” feeling, your loved one may not be able to eat three large meals a day. They may do better with smaller portions. It is helpful to have your loved one sitting upright when eating because there is less pressure on the liver. Talk with your nurse they may encourage a particular diet that could be tolerated better.
  • Administer medications as directed by your healthcare team.
  • Watch for signs of bleeding. You may see blood in the stool, or from the nose or mouth which could cause anxiety. Report any signs of bleeding to your nurse. You may want to use electric razors, soft toothbrushes and have your loved one blow their nose gently to avoid any bleeding. It may be helpful to have dark towels available in case excessive bleeding occurs.
  • Personality or behavioral changes. Any personality or behavioral change, an increase in confusion or if your loved one is harder to arouse you want to call your nurse. These changes are due to the build up of toxins in the body.


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