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Acute fatty liver of pregnancy

Last reviewed dd mmm yyyy. Last edited dd mmm yyyy

Authoring team

  • acute fatty liver of pregnancy has a rapid onset in the third trimester. It has an unknown aetiology
    • there are however case reports revealing a correlation between pregnancy complications such as acute fatty liver of pregnancy and long-chain 3-hydroxyacyl-coenzyme A dehydrogenase (LCHAD) deficiency in the fetus (1,2)

  • this disease results form accumulation of microvesicular fat in hepatocytes - this condition is associated with potentially rapid onset of liver failure

  • it is rare - 1 in 7000 to 1 in 16000 pregnancies (3,4). Note however that a UK study revealed a significantly higher incidence of about 1 in 1,000 pregnancies (5)

  • it is associated with raised bilirubin and transaminase levels; other possible features include hyperuricaemia, thrombocytopaenia and pancreatitis

  • clinical features include vomiting, abdominal pain, and headache. The mother will be jaundiced

  • disease progression may lead to renal failure, clotting disorders and hypoglycaemia

  • treatment involves hospitalisation, immediate delivery, and treatment of liver failure (and renal failure). There is a high maternal and fetal mortality associated with this condition
    • maternal mortality rate has been estimated at 18%, and neonatal mortality rates have ranged from 7% to 58% (3,4)


  1. Castro MA et al. Reversible peripartum liver failure: a new perspective on the diagnosis, treatment, and cause of acute fatty liver of pregnancy based on 28 cases, Am J Obstet Gynecol 1999;181: 389–395.
  2. Reyes H et al. Acute fatty liver of pregnancy: a clinical study of 12 episodes in 11 patients. Gut 1994; 35:101–106.
  3. Tyni T et al. Pregnancy complications are frequent in longchain 3-hydroxyacyl-coenzyme A dehydrogenase deficiency. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1998;178:603-8.
  4. Ibdah JA et al. A fetal fatty-acid oxidation disorder as a cause of liver disease in pregnant women. N Engl J Med 1999;340:1723- 31.
  5. Ch'ng L et al. Prospective study of liver dysfunction in pregnancy in Southwest Wales Gut, Dec 2002; 51: 876 - 880.

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