What killed Smash Mouth’s Steve Harwell? Singer dies after suffering liver failure from years of addiction and drugs

What killed Smash Mouth’s Steve Harwell? Singer dies after suffering liver failure from years of addiction and drugs

Steve Harwell, the ex-frontman for the band Smash Mouth, has died at the age of 56 years old.

Although an official cause of death has not been confirmed, Harwell’s manager said in a statement Monday the singer had died from acute liver failure after being moved to hospice care.

It has also been reported that Harwell had been suffering from liver failure following a life-long battle with alcohol abuse and addiction.

Liver failure, the loss of liver function, is rare and kills approximately 50,000 adults in the US per year. An estimated 5.5million are thought to have cirrhosis, or severe scarring of the liver often caused by alcoholism, which can lead to liver failure.

The liver is a critical organ in the body responsible for a myriad of functions that support metabolism, immunity, digestion, detoxification and vitamin storage. 

It also makes proteins to help blood clot and carry oxygen and manufactures bile for digestion.

Below, DailyMail.com explains what liver failure is and how the condition can lead to death.

What is liver failure?

Liver failure is when the vital organ is no longer able to carry out its critical functions. It is diagnosed via blood tests, which can reveal whether the organ is working properly.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, describes the condition as when the organ ‘becomes so sick and damaged that it stops working’.

There are two types of liver failure: acute and chronic.

Acute liver failure is when the organ rapidly loses its ability to function, typically over a period of days to weeks.

Chronic liver failure on the other hand, is when the organ loses its ability to function over months to years due to damage compounded over time.

Both conditions can be caused by alcohol abuse, which damages the organ and leads it to replace healthy cells with scar tissue — impairing its function.

They can also be triggered by the use of drugs, viral infections and autoimmune diseases.

Chronic liver disease is more common than acute and was the ninth leading cause of death in the US in 2020, behind 56,000 fatalities. 

Acute liver disease, however, is rare, with about 2,000 people diagnosed with the disease every year.

Symptoms of liver failure include abdominal pain, jaundice — yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes — and severe fatigue.

Patients may also have dark-colored urine and clay-colored feces.

What causes liver failure?

Acute liver failure can be caused by a sudden trigger that overloads an already damaged liver.

Many patients may already have chronic liver disease caused by factors such as  consuming an abundance of alcohol.

Regularly drinking a lot of alcohol eventually causes the liver to start replacing healthy cells with scar tissue — impairing the organ’s ability to function. 

This happens because the alcohol is broken down into acetalhyde, which is toxic to the organ. It can also cause fats to accumulate in the liver, triggering inflammation and further damaging cells.

If a chronic liver patient continues to stress the organ, such as participating in a night of binge drinking, the sudden exacerbation can stress the liver, causing it to fail in a medical condition known as acute-on-chronic liver failure. 

Steve Harwell died with his family by his side on Monday, a statement said (Harwell is pictured above)

It is more common, however, for acute liver failure to occur in people who have no prior history of liver problems. 

Doctors at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles say it can be triggered by suddenly consuming a lot of drugs, such as the over-the-counter painkiller acetaminophen, also known as Tylenol.

These can overwhelm the liver with toxic substances causing it to shut down.

Can liver failure be cured? 

Doctors say liver damage can be treated in the early stages — and may even be reversible — by tackling the root cause.

For people with liver failure due to alcohol addiction, treatment may include lifestyle changes, such as abstaining from alcohol, rehab or therapy to address the factors driving someone to drink.

In some cases, patients may also be offered a liver transplant.

This is when a portion of a healthy liver is taken from a living donor and transplanted into an individual who has liver failure, replacing their damaged organ and growing to a fully functioning liver.

The operation is normally successful — with more than 90 percent of patients living longer than a year.

In other cases, a whole liver may be taken from a deceased donor and transplanted into a patient. 

But many transplant centers will refuse the operation to people who are currently active substance abusers or alcoholics.

This is because any further use of alcohol or other substances can lead to rapid damage to the newly transplanted liver, causing the operation to fail.

Some medical institutions even require a time period someone needs to be sober for before being eligible to be placed on the transplant waiting list. For example, Johns Hopkins University in Maryland says alcoholics need to be sober for at least six months before they can be considered for a liver transplant. 

For those who require a whole liver transplant, there is also a shortage of organs — with most being reserved only for patients most in need.


Luke Andrews

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