Definition

What is liver disease?

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.

How common is liver disease?

Liver disease is quite common. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of liver disease?

The common symptoms of liver disease are:

  • 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

 

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes liver disease?

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
  • 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

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
  • Wilson’s disease

Cancer and other growths

Examples include:

  • Liver cancer
  • Bile duct cancer
  • Liver adenoma

Other

Additional, common causes of liver disease include:

  • Chronic alcohol abuse
  • Fat accumulating in the liver (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease)

Risk factors

What increases my risk for liver disease?

There are many risk factors for liver disease, such as:

  • 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
  • High levels of triglycerides in your blood

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is liver disease diagnosed?

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 long needle inserted through the skin to extract a tissue sample. It is then analyzed in a laboratory.

How is liver disease treated?

Each liver disease will have its own specific treatment regimen. For example, hepatitis A requires supportive care to maintain hydration while the body’s immune system fights and resolves the infection. Patients with gallstones may require surgery to remove the gallbladder. Other diseases may need long-term medical care to control and minimize the consequences of their disease

In patients with cirrhosis and end-stage liver disease, medications may be required to control the amount of protein absorbed in the diet. The liver affected by cirrhosis may not be able to metabolize the waste products, resulting in elevated blood ammonia levels and hepatic encephalopathy (lethargy, confusion, coma). Low sodium diet and water pills (diuretics) may be required to minimize water retention.

In those patients with large amounts of ascites fluid (fluid accumulated in the abdominal cavity), the excess fluid may have to be occasionally removed with a needle and syringe (paracentesis). Using local anesthetic, a needle is inserted through the abdominal wall and the fluid is withdrawn. The ascites fluid can spontaneously become infected and paracentesis also may be used as a diagnostic test looking for infection.

Operations may be required to treat portal hypertension and minimize the risk of bleeding.

Liver transplantation is the final option for patients whose livers have failed.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage liver disease?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with liver disease:

  • Drink alcohol in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. Heavy or high-risk drinking is defined as more than three drinks on any day or more than seven drinks a week for women and for men older than age 65, and more than four drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks a week for men age 65 and younger.
  • Avoid risky behavior. Get help if you use illicit intravenous drugs, and don’t share needles used to inject drugs. Use a condom during sex. If you choose to have tattoos or body piercings, be picky about cleanliness and safety when selecting a shop.
  • Get vaccinated. If you’re at increased risk of contracting hepatitis or if you’ve already 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 medications 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.
  • Take care with aerosol sprays. Make sure the room is ventilated, and wear a mask when spraying insecticides, fungicides, paint and other toxic chemicals. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Protect your skin. When using insecticides and other toxic chemicals, wear gloves, long sleeves, a hat and a mask.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity can cause nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: July 20, 2017 | Last Modified: July 20, 2017

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