Understanding Liver Disease
Liver Disease: Diseases and Conditions
Your liver is your largest organ. It helps your body digest food, store energy, and remove poisons.
There are many kinds of liver diseases. Viruses cause some of them, like hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Others can be the result of drugs, poisons or drinking too much alcohol. If the liver forms scar tissue because of an illness, it's called cirrhosis. Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin, can be one sign of liver disease.
Cancer can affect the liver. You could also inherit a liver disease such ashemochromatosis.
The liver is an organ about the size of a football that sits just under your rib cage on the right side of your abdomen. The liver is essential for digesting food and ridding your body of toxic substances.
Liver disease can be inherited (genetic) or caused by a variety of factors that damage the liver, such as viruses and alcohol use. Obesity is also associated with liver damage. Over time, damage to the liver results in scarring (cirrhosis), which can lead to liver failure, a life-threatening condition.
Signs and symptoms of liver disease include:
Skin and eyes that appear yellowish (jaundice), Abdominal pain and swelling, Swelling in legs and ankles, Itchy skin, Dark urine color, Pale stool color, or bloody / tar-colored stool, Chronic fatigue, Nausea / vomiting, Appetite loss and/or tendency to bruise.
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any persistent signs or symptoms that worry you. Seek immediate medical attention if you have abdominal pain so severe that you can't stay still.
Liver Disease has many causes:
Infection: Parasites and viruses can infect the liver, causing inflammation and that reduces liver function. The viruses that cause liver damage can be spread through blood or semen, contaminated food or water, or close contact with a person who is infected. The most common types of liver infection are hepatitis viruses, including: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.
Immune system abnormality: Diseases in which your immune system attacks certain parts of your body (autoimmune) can affect your liver. Examples of autoimmune liver diseases include: Autoimmune hepatitis, Primary biliary cirrhosis and/or Primary sclerosing cholangitis.
Genetics: An abnormal gene inherited from one or both of your parents can cause various substances to build up in your liver, resulting in liver damage. Genetic liver diseases include: Hemochromatosis, Hyperoxaluria and oxalosis and/or Wilson's disease.
Cancer and other growths: E.g., Liver cancer, Bile duct cancer and/or Liver adenoma.
Other: Additional, common causes of liver disease include Chronic alcohol abuse and/or Fat accumulating in the liver (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease).
Factors that may increase your risk of liver disease include: Heavy alcohol use, Injecting drugs using shared needles, Tattoos or body piercings, Blood transfusion before 1992, Exposure to other people's blood and body fluids, Unprotected sex, Exposure to certain chemicals or toxins, Diabetes, Obesity and/or High levels of triglycerides in your blood.
Complications of liver disease vary, depending on the cause of your liver problems. Untreated liver disease may progress to liver failure, a life-threatening condition. You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in the liver (hepatologist).
What you can do
Be aware of pre-appointment restrictions e.g., no solid food the day before your appointment.
Write down all of your symptoms, even if they may seem unrelated to the cause of your concern.
Make a list of all your medications, vitamins and supplements.
Write down your key medical information, including other conditions.
Write down key personal information, including any recent changes or stressors in your life.
Ask a relative or friend to accompany you, to help you remember what the doctor says.
Write down questions to ask your doctor.
What to expect from your doctor
Finding the cause and extent of liver damage is important in guiding treatment. Your doctor is likely to start with a health history and thorough physical examination. Your doctor may then recommend:
Blood tests- A group of blood tests called liver function tests can be used to diagnose liver disease. Other blood tests can be done to look for specific liver problems or genetic conditions.
Imaging tests- CT scan, MRI and ultrasound can show liver damage.
Tissue analysis- Removing a tissue sample (biopsy) from your liver may help diagnose liver disease. Liver biopsy is most often done using a needle inserted through the skin to extract a tissue sample.
Treatment for liver disease depends on your diagnosis. Some liver problems can be treated with lifestyle modifications, such as stopping alcohol use or losing weight, typically as part of a medical program that includes careful monitoring of liver function. Other liver problems may be treated with medications or may require surgery.
Treatment for liver disease that causes liver failure may ultimately require a liver transplant.
No alternative medicine therapies have been proved to treat liver disease.
Some studies — notably of Chinese herbal medicine treatments for clearance of hepatitis B virus — have indicated benefits. But the quality of these studies has been questioned. On the other hand, some herbal supplements used as alternative medicine treatments can harm your liver. More than 1,000 medications and herbal products are associated with liver damage, including: Jin bu huan, Ma-huang, Germander, Valerian, Mistletoe, Skullcap, Chaparral, Comfrey, Kava and/or Pennyroyal oil.
To protect your liver, talk to your doctor about risks before taking any alternative medicines.
To prevent liver disease
Drink alcohol in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to 1 drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to 2 drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. Heavy or high-risk drinking is defined as more than 3 drinks a day or more than 7 drinks a week for women and men older than 65, and more than 4 drinks a day or more than 14 drinks a week for men 65 and younger.
Avoid risky behavior. Get help if you use illicit intravenous drugs. Don't share needles used to inject drugs. Use a condom during sex. If you get tattoos or piercings, be picky when selecting a shop.
Get vaccinated. If you're at increased risk of contracting hepatitis or if you've been infected with any form of the hepatitis virus, talk to your doctor about getting the hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines.
Use medications wisely. Take prescription and nonprescription drugs only when needed and only in recommended doses. Don't mix meds and alcohol. Talk to your doctor before mixing herbal supplements or prescription or nonprescription drugs.
Avoid contact with other people's blood and body fluids. Hepatitis viruses can be spread by accidental needle sticks or improper cleanup of blood or body fluids.
Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity can cause nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.