What is liver disease?
Did you know that alcohol consumption causes 20% to 50% if liver damage? Your doctor may have just told you that your liver is failing. This means that your liver is not able to properly filter your blood and help support your other organs. This can lead to damaging effects to the rest of your body. Let’s take a closer look at liver disease.
Liver disease can be inherited 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.
The liver is the largest hard working organ in the body. It is about the size of a football that sits just under your rib cage on the right side of your abdomen. It is made up of 2 parts: the left lobe and the right lobe. The liver is essential for digesting food, getting rid of our body of toxic substances and storing energy for the body to use when needed.
What are the causes of liver disease?
There are many causes and some main ones lead to liver diseases are:
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
- 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
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis
There is 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:
- Hyperoxaluria and oxalosis
- Wilson’s disease
Additional, common causes of liver disease include:
- Chronic alcohol abuse
- Fat accumulating in the liver (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease)
Who are at risk of liver disease?
People with some factors that may increase their 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
- High levels of triglycerides in your blood
Signs and Symptoms
What are the symptoms of liver disease?
Signs and symptoms of liver disease include:
- Skin and eyes that appear yellowish (jaundice)
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Swelling in the legs and ankles
- Itchy skin
- Dark urine color
- Pale stool color, or bloody or tar-colored stool
- Chronic fatigue
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Tendency to bruise easily
When should I 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 that is so severe that you can’t stay still.
What are the complications may happen?
There are many complications of liver disease. When your liver starts to fail, your other organs become affected. Here are some complications of acute liver failure:
- Cerebral edema: This is excessive fluid in the brain that can cause pressure in the brain and prevents the brain from getting oxygen.
- Bleeding disorders: Since the liver is responsible for producing blood-clotting factors, acute liver failure will cause uncontrolled bleeding, usually in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Infections: You become more at risk for infections, particularly respiratory and urinary infections
- Kidney failure: When the liver fails, the kidneys will work even hard to manage filtering toxins in the body. It will be the next organ to fail.
Complications can be prevented by managing risks and the progression of your condition. It is important to talk to your doctor to find ways to prevent these complications.
Diagnosis and tests
How is liver disease diagnosed?
Finding the causes 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 recommend:
- You should have blood tests. That means 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.
- Or you will have imaging tests. In this test, CT scan, MRI and ultrasound can show liver damage.
- And you will have tissue analysis to removing a tissue sample (biopsy) from your liver to diagnose liver disease. Liver biopsy is most often done using a long needle inserted through the skin to extract a tissue sample. It is then analyzed in a laboratory.
Treatment and Management
What are the treatments for liver disease?
Treatment for liver disease depends on the cause and the severity of your liver disease. For paracetamol overdose (also known as acetaminophen overdose), treatment consists reversing the effects of paracetamol. When the cause is a viral infection such as hepatitis, your doctor will prescribe medications to treat the infection and closely monitor your liver regularly. Some liver problems can be treated easily with lifestyle modifications, such as stopping alcohol use or losing weight that may be a part of your medical program. But other liver problems may have to be treated with medications or may require surgery. Besides, treatment for liver disease that causes liver failure may ultimately require a liver transplant.
How can you manage your liver disease?
If you have liver disease, your liver will do its job more easily and can repair some liver damage if you have a healthy diet. An unhealthy diet can make your liver work very hard and can cause more damage to it.
Talk to your doctor about the type of diet that is best for you so that you get the right amount of nutrition.
General recommendations for patients with severe liver disease include:
- Eat large amounts of carbohydrate foods. Carbohydrates should be the major source of calories in this diet.
- Eat a moderate intake of fat, as prescribed by the health care provider. The increased carbohydrates and fat help prevent protein breakdown in the liver.
- Have about 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. This means that a 154-pound (70-kilogram) man should eat 70 grams of protein per day. This does not include the protein from starchy foods and vegetables. A person with a badly damaged liver may need to eat less protein. Talk to your doctor about your protein needs.
- Take vitamin supplements, especially B-complex vitamins.
- Reduce the amount of salt you consume (typically less than 1500 milligrams per day) if you are retaining fluid.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
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Liver Diseases: MedlinePlus. National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/liverdiseases.html#cat77. Accessed September 9, 2016.
Liver Problems - Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/liver-problems/basics/definition/con-20025300?p=1. Accessed September 9, 2016.
Liver Disease - NHS Choices. NHS Choices - Your Health, Your Choices. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/liver-disease/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Accessed September 9, 2016.
Review Date: May 19, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017