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HEPATOLOGY Vol. 21, No. 1, 1995


Fulminant hepatic failure (FHF) is defined by the appearance of severe liver injury with hepatic encephalopathy in a previously healthy person. There are an estimated 2,000 cases of FHF in the United States yearly, representing 0.1% of all deaths and, perhaps, 6% of liver related deaths. The causes of FHF are many, the chief ones in the United States being hepatitis A; B; non-A, non-B and drug induced liver disease. There are no specific therapies for FHF, however, liver transplantation is recommended for situations in which spontaneous recovery appears unlikely. Factors that are valuable in assessing the likelihood of spontaneous recovery are static features such as patient age and etiology of FHF and dynamic features including encephalopathy grade, prothrombin time, and serum bilirubin. Presently, approximately 7% of all liver transplants are done for FHF and the 1-year patient survival rates average 63%, somewhat less than survival rates for nonfulminant liver disease, averaging 78%. The management of patients with F” is challenging, particularly important being monitoring and early treatment of infections, hemodynamic abnormalities, and brain edema. Innovative approaches to management and therapy include use of cytoprotective or antiviral medications, hepatic support systems, extracorporeal liver support, hepatocyte transplantation, auxiliary liver transplantation, and xenotransplantation. None of these are of proven benefit, but many are promising as a means to support the patient with FHF until spontaneous recovery occurs or a suitable liver graft is available for transplantation.

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