What is Acute Fatty Liver of Pregnancy?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2018
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Acute fatty liver of pregnancy is the term given for late pregnancy liver failure. In most cases, there is no known cause for loss of liver function. In other instances, it is associate with an abnormality of fatty acid metabolism.

Until recently, acute fatty liver of pregnancy was generally fatal. Today, there are life saving measures that can be taken to save both the mother and her unborn child. Intravenous medications and fluids may be administered, and the infant is usually delivered as soon as possible. If the child’s lungs are not fully developed, growth steroids may be administered in utero to help progress the maturation of the infant’s lungs. This will give both mother and baby the best chance at life.

Most times, acute fatty liver of pregnancy occurs during the last trimester. In rare cases when an earlier term mother is diagnosed, there may be tough decisions that need to be made on the part of the mother and medical staff. If the child is not considered viable, meaning that it could not likely survive outside the womb, the condition may be controlled to allow the baby more time to grow. Sometimes, this is not an option. When liver damage becomes too severe, the mother must decide to either deliver the baby before he or she is able to survive or risk dying herself.


Early symptoms of acute fatty liver of pregnancy include nausea, vomiting, moderate to severe abdominal pain, jaundice, and being unusually thirsty. Unfortunately, many of these symptoms are also common to some pregnancies and may be left undiagnosed until the condition has worsened. Pregnant women who experience a relapse in nausea or vomiting after early pregnancy should seek medical attention right away.

In most cases, the condition clears up soon after the baby is delivered, and it is rare, once full healing has been acquired, that a mother would suffer from the condition again in a future pregnancy. If liver damage is severe, further treatment may be necessary to repair or lessen the damage. The outlook for women with acute fatty liver of pregnancy has improved dramatically, but is still considered potentially life threatening if not treated early.

Infants who are born to mothers with the condition have varied consequences. Some infants may be severely immature and require continuous hospitalization for several months after birth. Others may be adversely affected by the mother’s faltering liver and suffer additional side effects. In the most severe of cases, the infant is too premature to live outside of the womb. Fortunately, many infants are delivered close enough to their due dates to allow a full recovery.



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