Liver Disease

Liver Disease includes any medical condition or health complaint that afflicts or originates in the liver.

The liver performs hundreds of useful functions, amongst them are nutrient storage, the filtering and processing of chemicals contained in food, detoxifying harmful substances, purifying your blood, manufacturing vital nutrients, and the production of bile, a solution that helps digest fats and eliminate waste products from the body.

Bile, a fluid secreted by the Liver, is essential for the proper digestion of fats and helping the body rid itself of worn out red blood cells, cholesterol, and potentially toxic chemicals and metals.

The liver is essential to digestion, and any loss of function of can cause very serious health consequences.

When there is a loss of function in the liver, the symptoms generally include abdominal pain, nausea, fever, confusion, fatigue, vomiting, jaundice (which is a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes), abdominal swelling due to fluid accumulation (ascites), unintended weight loss, and/or loss of appetite.

A number of factors such as alcohol, certain drugs, and viral infections can cause serious liver disease, which is called hepatitis. This condition and others are explored below.

Alcoholic Hepatitis
Alcoholic Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver, which is often caused by excessive and/or prolonged alcohol consumption. The damage caused to the liver as a result of Alcoholic Hepatitis can be reversed by abstaining from consuming alcohol and other substances that may harm the liver.

For people who continue to consume alcohol, the condition is likely to progress to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and liver failure, either of which can be fatal unless a liver transplant can occur in time.

The main symptoms of Alcoholic Hepatitis include abdominal pain, nausea, fever, confusion, fatigue, vomiting, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes), abdominal swelling due to fluid accumulation (ascites), unintended weight loss, and/or the loss of appetite.

Autoimmune Hepatitis
Autoimmune Hepatitis occurs when the body’s own immune system attacks the liver. Exactly why this happens isn’t clear, but it is believed to occur when some diseases, toxins, and drugs trigger the immune response in susceptible people, especially women.

If left untreated, Autoimmune Hepatitis can cause scarring of the Liver (cirrhosis) and eventually lead to liver failure. However, when diagnosed and treated early, Autoimmune Hepatitis can usually be controlled with the long term use of immune system suppression drugs. Should these drugs not prove to be effective then a liver transplant may be required.

The main symptoms of Autoimmune Hepatitis include abdominal pain, nausea, confusion, itching, vomiting, joint ache, jaundice, and abdominal swelling due to fluid accumulation (ascites) amongst other symptoms.

Cirrhosis
Cirrhosis is a condition that causes irreversible scarring of the liver. When this happens, scar tissue replaces normal tissue, blood flow through the liver is reduced, and it becomes increasingly difficult for the liver to carry out the essential functions it is supposed to perform.

Cirrhosis is most commonly caused by excessive alcohol use and chronic infection with the hepatitis C virus, but it may also be caused by immune system issues, damaged bile ducts, and/or prolonged exposure to various environmental toxins.

In its early stages, Cirrhosis rarely causes signs or symptoms. However, as the liver function deteriorates, the symptoms include fatigue, nausea, unintended weight loss, swelling in the legs and abdomen, and in later stages jaundice, itching, and bleeding from your digestive system that can be severe.

Liver damage caused by cirrhosis is both permanent and irreversible, however the disease usually progresses slowly and the symptoms it causes are usually controllable. Specific treatment for the disease depends upon the underlying cause.

People with cirrhosis must avoid alcohol and any other substances that can harm the liver. If the liver function becomes seriously impaired, a liver transplant may be the only option. Cirrhosis can be fatal if not treated in time.

Enlarged Liver
An Enlarged Liver (also called Hepatomegaly) whilst not a disease is the sign of an underlying medical condition such as hepatitis, congestive heart failure, or cancer. Treatment options depends on the underlying cause.

There normally aren’t any specific symptoms associated with an enlarged liver, but there may be for the underlying cause. In addition, abdominal tenderness and jaundice may occur if the liver becomes so large that function is affected.

Gilbert’s Syndrome
Gilbert’s Syndrome (also known as Constitutional Hepatic Dysfunction, Unconjugated Benign Bilirubinemia, and Familial Nonhemolytic Jaundice) is a common but mild disorder in which the liver cannot properly process bilirubin, a substance which is produced by the breakdown of red blood cells.

Gilbert’s Syndrome doesn’t usually require treatment, nor does it usually pose any serious health issues, and the only symptom it may cause is mild jaundice. For these reasons, Gilbert’s Syndrome is not usually considered a disease at all.

Hereditary Hemochromatosis
Hereditary Hemochromatosis (HH) is a genetic defect that causes your body to absorb too much iron from the food you eat, leading to excessively high levels of iron in various organs, especially the liver, heart, and pancreas.

The symptoms of HH include abdominal pain, joint pain, fatigue, and impotence. Over time, such high levels of iron can cause damage to organs and lead to a range of life-threatening conditions which include cancer, heart problems, and liver disease, each causing their own symptoms.

The condition can be treated by removing blood from your body to lower the level of iron.

Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV), which can be contracted by consuming contaminated food or water, or from close contact with someone who is infected. Hepatitis A is usually not as serious as other types of viral hepatitis, but it can cause liver inflammation that affects your liver function.

Some infected people never develop symptoms of the disease, but in other cases, the symptoms can be similar to those of flu.

Mild cases of Hepatitis A require no treatment and pose no long term risk to the liver, however, a vaccine is available for those at risk. Practicing good hygiene, such as washing your hands properly, is the best way to protect yourself against Hepatitis A.

Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV), which can be contracted by contact with infected blood and body fluids, for example as the result of an infected blood transfusion, having unprotected sex, or when intravenous (IV) drug users share needles. Pregnant women infected with HBV can pass the infection onto their babies during childbirth.

Hepatitis B can cause very serious and potentially fatal health complications including liver failure, liver cancer, and cirrhosis. No cure for the disease exists, but vaccination can prevent the disease.

The symptoms of Hepatitis B include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, unintended weight loss, abdominal pain, dark urine, joint pain, and jaundice.

Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is generally considered to be the most serious of all the hepatitis virus infections. Hepatitis C is a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which can be contracted by contact with infected blood, for example as the result of an infected blood transfusion, or when intravenous (IV) drug users share needles.

HCV is particularly dangerous because those infected show no visible symptoms until serious and irreversible liver damage occurs, decades after they were infected.

In the early stages, Hepatitis C causes symptoms like slight fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, muscle and joint pain, and abdominal tenderness. However, in later stages – decades after infection – Hepatitis C can cause more serious versions of these symptoms, as well as fever and jaundice.

Hepatitis D, E, and G
Hepatitis D, E, and G are other forms of the hepatitis virus that can cause the liver to become inflamed and reduce its ability to function.

Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is a term used to describe a range of conditions that afflict people who consume little or no alcohol, and is most common in middle-aged overweight people who may also have diabetes and high cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

The mildest of these conditions is steatosis, a condition that usually causes no liver damage, that occurs when fat accumulates in the liver.

Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH) is more serious and is associated with potentially damaging inflammation of the liver and sometimes the formation of fibrous tissue in the liver. NASH can in some cases progress to cirrhosis or to liver cancer.

In its early stages, NAFLD causes only mild symptoms such as fatigue and slight abdominal pain, if any. In later stages, NAFLD can cause fatigue, nausea, fatigue, weakness, unintended weight loss, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, dark urine, confusion, memory loss, itching, swelling in the legs and feet, enlarged veins (which may exhibit as small red spider veins under the skin or bleeding from the digestive tract), and jaundice.

The main treatments for NAFLD include dietary and life style changes, to promote exercise, weight loss, diabetes control, and the administering of cholesterol-lowering medications.

Primary Biliary Cirrhosis
Primary Biliary Cirrhosis is a disease which slowly destroys the liver’s bile ducts, reducing the ability of the liver to transport bile, a fluid essential for digestion and the removal of harmful substances from the body. The slow destruction of the bile ducts allows harmful substances to build up in the liver and can also cause cirrhosis.

The exact cause of Primary Biliary Cirrhosis has not as yet been determined, but genetic, environmental, and autoimmune factors are suspected.

In the early stages, this condition causes fatigue, itching, and dry eyes and mouth (sicca syndrome). In later stages, the disease causes jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes), hyperpigmentation (dark skin), edema (swollen feet), ascites (swollen abdomen), xanthomas (cholesterol deposits), digestive problems, and Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs).

The condition is currently incurable, but the symptoms can be alleviated and complications prevented with medications and treatment.

Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis
Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis is a disease that causes inflammation, hardening and scaring of the bile ducts inside and outside the liver, thus impeding the flow of bile through the ducts and reducing the liver’s ability to function properly. The condition is also often associated with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The exact cause of Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis has not been determined, but autoimmune factors are suspected.

The symptoms include abdominal pain, fatigue, nausea, itchiness, and jaundice.

The disease progresses slowly, and leads to liver disease and failure. Various medications can improve the symptoms, but a liver transplant is the only cure for this condition.

Toxic Hepatitis
Toxic Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver that occurs when your liver is damaged by toxic chemicals, drugs, or certain other poisonous chemicals that may enter the body.

In some cases, Toxic Hepatitis may develop within hours or days of exposure to a toxin, but in other cases it may take months for symptoms to appear. Toxic Hepatitis can permanently damage the liver, and potentially cause cirrhosis and liver failure.

The main symptoms of Toxic Hepatitis include abdominal pain, nausea, fever, confusion, fatigue, vomiting, jaundice, dark urine, and unintended weight loss and/or loss of appetite.

Wilson’s Disease
Wilson’s Disease is an inherited disorder that causes excess copper to accumulate in the liver, brain, and other vital organs.

Normally copper, which plays a key role in the development of healthy nerves, bones and skin to name but a few, is absorbed from the food we eat, and any excess is excreted through bile, an essential digestive fluid produced in the liver. However, sufferers of Wilson’s Disease cannot eliminate excess copper, and instead it accumulates over years to life threatening levels.

People with Wilson’s Disease are born with the condition, although symptoms may not occur until the age of 30 or even later.

If left untreated, Wilson’s Disease is fatal. However, when diagnosed early, Wilson’s Disease is treatable, allowing sufferers to live normal lives.

The symptoms of Wilson’s Disease are very wide reaching and can include problems with the liver, eyes, kidneys and bones, as well as various neurological problems, behavioral problems, and psychological problems.

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