Acute liver failure (ALF) in children, irrespective of cause, is a rapidly evolving catastrophic clinical condition that results in high mortality and morbidity without prompt identification and intervention. Massive hepatocyte necrosis impairs the synthetic, excretory, and detoxification abilities of the liver, with resultant coagulopathy, jaundice, metabolic disturbance, and encephalopathy. Extrahepatic organ damage, multiorgan failure, and death result from circulating inflammatory mediators released by the hepatocytes undergoing necrosis. There are yet no treatment options available for reversing or halting hepatocellular necrosis, thus current therapy focuses on supporting failing organs and preventing life threatening complications pending either spontaneous liver recovery or transplantation. The aims of this review are to define pediatric acute liver failure (PALF), understand the pathophysiologic processes that lead to multiorgan failure, to describe the consequences of a failing liver on extrahepatic organs, to enumerate the critical care challenges encountered during PALF management, and to describe pharmacologic and extracorporeal options available to support a critically ill child with ALF in the intensive care unit.
Keywords: Critical care hepatology; Extracorporeal liver support; Liver transplantation.
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