Liver failure can fall under two categories - acute liver failure and chronic liver failure. While acute liver failure is less common and tends to occur in those who haven’t previously had liver disease, chronic liver failure develops slower and is typically a result of liver disease; the causes for both differ.

Common causes of acute liver failure include:

  • Autoimmune disease
  • Prescription medication and supplements
  • Hepatitis
  • Toxins

Common causes of chronic liver failure include:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Hepatitis C
  • Fatty liver disease

See also: What Is The Function Of The Liver?

Causes of Acute Liver Failure

Acute liver failure is less common than chronic liver failure - it can occur in a matter of days or weeks. Once treated, it’s possible for acute liver failure to be reversed, though this depends on the cause [2]. Some causes associated with acute liver failure include:

  • Autoimmune disease

An autoimmune disease is a disease in which your immune system mistakenly attacks your body.
Autoimmune hepatitis can cause your immune system to attack your liver cells - resulting in swelling and injury [3].

  • Prescription medications and herbal supplements

Herbal supplements and prescription medications can cause toxic liver disease. This happens when toxins begin to form while your liver attempts to process your blood [4].
Herbal supplements and medications which can cause this include (but are not limited to) antibiotics, anticonvulsants, kava and ephedra [4].

  • Hepatitis

Hepatitis is an inflammatory condition of the liver. This infection can be contracted by alcohol consumption, drug use, certain medications, and sexual contact.
Hepatitis can cause scarring of the liver and loss of liver function and is a common cause of acute liver failure [5].

  • Toxins

Toxins are associated with causing acute liver failure. There are many sources of toxins - including the wild mushroom: Amanita phalloides and the industrial chemical: Carbon tetrachloride [6].

See also: What Causes Liver Dysfunction?

Causes of Chronic Liver Failure

Chronic liver failure usually occurs when the damage to your liver has built up over a period of time - this damage is a result of cirrhosis (a long-term liver disease). Some causes associated with chronic liver failure include:

  • Alcohol abuse

Your liver is capable of restoring itself, but excessive alcohol intake over many years can reduce your liver’s ability to regenerate. This can result in serious or permanent damage to your liver - including cirrhosis and chronic liver failure [7].

  • Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C causes inflammation in the liver, it can put people at great risk of developing chronic liver failure [8]. This disease is spread through the blood and can be contracted through sexual relations with someone with the infection or through needle sharing.

  • Fatty liver disease

Fatty liver disease is usually a result of insulin resistance, high blood sugar, high levels of fat or obesity. This disease has the potential to cause liver inflammation, cirrhosis and ultimately liver failure [9].

See also: What Are The Symptoms Of Liver Disease?

The best way to find out more about your liver health is to take a blood test - this can be done by visiting your doctor or by using an at-home test.

LetsGetChecked’s at home Liver test focuses on key proteins and enzymes in the liver, providing you with an understanding of how your liver is performing. With LetsGetChecked’s at-home test, you can test your liver health at a time that suits you.

See also: How Often Should You Check Your Liver Function?


  1. American Liver Foundation. The Progression of Liver Disease. Online:, 2017
  2. Mayo Clinic Staff. Acute Liver Failure. Online:, 2017
  3. Mayo Clinic Staff. Acute Liver Failure. Online:, 2017
  4. Mayo Clinic Staff. Acute Liver Failure. Online:, 2017
  5. NHS. Hepatitis. Online:, 2019
  6. Mayo Clinic Staff. Acute Liver Failure. Online:, 2017
  7. NHS. Alcohol-related liver disease. Online:, 2018
  8. Mayo Clinic Staff. Hepatitis C. Online:, 2019
  9. Mayo Clinic Staff. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Online:, 2019