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What Is Fulminant Hepatitis?

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Fiel Tugade · Updated May 10, 2022

    What Is Fulminant Hepatitis?

    Unlike regular hepatitis, fulminant hepatitis is a destructive type of condition that damages and deteriorates a person’s liver and its respective liver cells. It may be rare but it may develop quickly, often among young people. For children, genetics and other inherited disorders may be the reason behind this.

    Understanding What It Means To Have Fulminant Hepatitis (FH)

    In fulminant hepatitis, or more commonly known as acute liver failure, the liver cells are replaced by scar tissues. The cycle repeats until there are no more liver cells available to deliver their roles. After it destroys the liver cells, it then proceeds to disrupt not only the liver functioning, but also the other tissues and organ systems near it. 

    Causes of Fulminant Hepatitis

    The most frequent causes of fulminant hepatitis are:

    • Viral hepatitis infection (either Hepatitis A or B but more common to those with Hepatitis B)
    • Acetaminophen (paracetamol) overdose
    • Natural ingredients or herbs
    • Exposure to toxins and other chemicals
    • Heavy alcohol drinking
    • Other complications such as but not limited to autoimmune diseases, sepsis, metabolic disorders, and even cancer

    Despite all the listed possible causes, there are also some instances wherein there are no known causes of the development of liver failure. 

    Symptoms of Fulminant Hepatitis

    Common symptoms that may be seen from a person who was diagnosed with fulminant hepatitis are:

    • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin, eyeballs, and even the gums)
    • Ascites (abdominal swelling from too much fluid build-up)
    • Sleepiness and fatigue
    • Loss of appetite
    • Confusion and irritability
    • Edema (swelling of the legs and feet)
    • Altered consciousness
    • Body tremors (shaking)
    • Change in the color of the  urine and stool (urine turns to dark colored tea while stool shows a lighter color)
    • Itchy skin (which eventually leads to bruise or bleed easily)
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Blood-clotting defects or bleeding
    • Fluid build-up on other parts of the body such as the legs, arms, or face 

    Complications of Fulminant Hepatitis

    When the liver is severely damaged and can no longer do its job, it often leads to other complications such as those of the following:

    • Encephalopathy
    • Cerebral edema (excessive fluid in the brain)
    • Serious blood infections 
    • Respiratory and urinary tract infections
    • Kidney failure

    fulminant hepatitis


    The doctor will immediately run several tests such as blood and urine tests, ultrasound, CT scan, liver biopsy, and other upper gastrointestinal testings to check the root cause of the symptoms shown. These tests will help the attending physicians come up with the next step for their patient management.

    Treatment and Management

    If the cause can be targeted quickly, then it may be treated right away. However even up to date, there is still no single and exact medicine that can treat and reverse the effects of liver failure. 

    The doctor’s management for patients with this condition is to lessen the damage that it may cause to the liver and the other complications that may soon rise upon treatment. Those diagnosed with it may soon be transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU) in order to provide immediate care they need throughout the duration of being hospitalized. 

    Oftentimes, liver transplantation is deemed as the only option to save one’s life from the said failure. However, it takes a while to find a donor and to be able to proceed with the transplant surgery. Younger individuals (those in their 30s or below) are more likely to recover than those older ones with other comorbidities.

    While on the lookout, doctors may also request a special diet for the patient to cut down meat and sodium from their food but still with enough caloric intake to keep up the energy going. Treatment modifications may also occur in order to keep the patient healthy. 

    Key Takeaways

    Fulminant hepatitis is a condition that can cost someone’s life. Before any signs or symptoms arise, it is more than ever important to reduce the possibility of having one by preventing it by eating healthily and appropriately. Drinking alcohol in moderation can also keep you away from liver failure.

    Learn more about Liver Diseases here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


    Written by Fiel Tugade · Updated May 10, 2022

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