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What to know about acute liver failure, Steve Harwell of Smash Mouth’s cause of death

Former Smash Mouth lead singer Steve Harwell died Monday at age 56 from acute liver failure. The artist, whose band is best known for the 1999 hit “All Star,” had been in hospice care, according to representative Robert Hayes.

Acute liver failure, also known as fulminant hepatic failure, is a rare but life-threatening condition in which the liver loses function.

In the United States, approximately 2,000 cases are diagnosed each year, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

What causes acute liver failure?

There can be multiple causes of acute liver failure, including an overdose of a common medicine.

According to Johns Hopkins, taking too much acetaminophen— the pain reliever found in Tylenol and other over-the-counter and prescription products — causes most cases of acute liver failure.

Alcohol also plays a role in the health of your liver, though it is more directly a cause ofchronic liver failure, which is more common and develops over a longer period. Multiple news outlets report Harwell hadstruggled with alcoholism.

Several conditions are also risk factors for acute liver failure, Johns Hopkins adds, including hepatitis, Wilson’s disease, cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, and herpes simplex virus.

In some cases of acute liver failure, however, the cause is unknown.

Acute liver failure symptoms

According to the Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms of acute liver failure include:

Yellowing of skin and eyeballsPain in upper right abdomenSwollen bellyNausea and vomitingDisorientation or confusionFatigueTremors

If you or a loved one suddenly develops a yellowing of the eyes or skin, tenderness in the abdomen or unusual changes in mental state, seek medical attention right away, the clinic advises.

How is acute liver failure treated?

Treatment for acute liver failure differs based on the underlying cause, the Johns Hopkins website notes, but may include options such as measures to counteract overdoses or medicine to treat underlying conditions. For example, if someone took too much acetaminophen, doctors have medications available to help counter the toxicity.

Sometimes a liver biopsy may be required to help determine the best course of treatment.

While some cases of liver failure can be reversed with treatment, other patients may need a liver transplant to survive.

The Mayo Clinic says you can also reduce your risk of acute liver failure through prevention, including following instructions on medications, reducing alcohol consumption and getting vaccinated for hepatitis A and B.

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