Things to know
- Liver disease is an umbrella term used to define a range of conditions that affect the liver. Common liver problems include viral hepatitis, fatty liver disease (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), Wilson’s disease, liver cancer and cirrhosis.
- The signs and symptoms of liver disease vary from one condition to another. Common liver disease symptoms include jaundice, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, swelling in the arms and legs and easy bruising.
- Untreated liver diseases can cause a variety of complications such as liver failure, cancer and scarring of the liver.
About liver diseases
The liver is one of the largest organs in your body. It is located on the right side of your abdomen under your ribcage. The liver is responsible for the production of certain proteins and enzymes including the bile juice that aids digestion. It is also responsible for separating nutrients and wastes in your digestive system.
Liver diseases are a group of conditions that affect the liver. There are several different types of liver problems. These diseases, if not addressed timely, can cause liver scarring and replace healthy liver tissues so that it is no longer able to function properly.
Common Liver Diseases
There is a wide range of conditions afflicting the liver. Some common liver problems are given below –
Hepatitis A is a type of liver infection caused by hepatitis A virus. It is a highly contagious liver disease that spreads from contaminated food, water or contact with an infected person.
Hepatitis B virus (HPB) is responsible for this liver infection. This liver disease can spread from blood, semen or other people’s body fluids.
Hepatitis C is a type of liver disease that causes inflammation of the liver. It usually spreads through contact with contaminated blood, for example, from sharing needles or from unsterilized tattoo equipment.
Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a term used to define a range of liver conditions who drink minimal or no alcohol. In this condition, a build-up of fat in the liver.
Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to an accumulation of liver fat causing alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Wilson’s disease is a genetic condition that leads to accumulation of excess copper in different organs of the body including the liver.
Liver cancer occurs when healthy cells in the liver start to divide and multiply at an abnormal speed leading to the formation of tumors.
This condition is characterised by severe scarring of the liver sometimes leading to liver failure.
Causes of Liver Problems
The causes of liver problems vary for each condition. Common causes and factors that lead to the development of liver problems include:
There are certain parasites and viruses that can cause inflammation in the liver leading to several liver problems including hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. These viruses can cause severe liver damage and can be transmitted through contaminated food and blood or semen.
Your immune system is designed to fight off certain bacteria and viruses. However, sometimes it mistakenly attacks your body’s healthy cells. Autoimmune liver diseases occur when your body’s immune system attacks the healthy cells of your liver. Common conditions caused by this reason include autoimmune hepatitis, primary biliary cholangitis and primary sclerosing cholangitis.
Genetic diseases are the ones that get inherited in the genes from your parents. There are some liver problems caused as a result of inheritance such as Wilson disease and hemochromatosis.
Cancer occurs when healthy cells in your body begin to divide and multiply at an abnormal rate leading to the formation of a mass called a tumour. Cancer can develop anywhere in the body including the liver and can cause liver damage.
Increased Exposure to Toxins
Poor lifestyle choices and patterns such as excessive alcohol consumption, unhealthy eating and sedentary lifestyle such as lack of exercise can lead to fat accumulation in the liver and alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Liver Problem Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of liver diseases are based on the type and severity of the disease as well as the patient’s lifestyle and overall health. Common liver problem symptoms include:
- Weight loss
- Jaundice (Yellowing or discolouration of the skin and eyes)
- Easy bruising
- Swelling in the arms and legs (oedema)
- Abdominal pain
- Changes in the colour of urine or stool
Risk Factors of Liver Disease
While liver problems can occur in any individual at any age, some groups are more vulnerable to developing liver diseases than others. Common risk factors include:
- Heavy alcohol abuse
- Obesity or being overweight
- Type 2 diabetes
- Exposure to other people’s blood and body fluids
- Unprotected intercourse
- Exposure to toxins or chemicals
- Family history
Liver Disease Complications
If left untreated, some types of liver diseases can further progress in terms of severity. Certain liver problems can lead to cirrhosis (liver scarring) and liver cancer.
Overtime, bad liver symptoms can negatively impact the overall functioning of the organ leading to liver failure which is a life-threatening condition.
Liver Disease Diagnosis
Liver diseases are diagnosed when on routine screening or when a person presents with troubling symptoms. Your healthcare provider will perform a thorough health checkup and address your medical as well as family history. Based on the preliminary findings, he/she will order certain diagnostic tests. Common tests and procedures done to diagnose liver diseases include:
- Blood tests to check the level of liver enzymes
- CT scan
- Liver biopsy
Liver Disease Treatment
The treatment protocol of liver diseases is based on the type of disease, severity of symptoms and the underlying cause of the disease. The following measures are used to treat liver diseases:
Based on your unique health parameters, your doctor will prescribe certain medications to help treat your condition.
A variety of liver diseases are caused as a result of poor & unhealthy lifestyle factors. Your doctor will guide you towards a healthier lifestyle by avoiding alcohol, quitting smoking, losing weight and increasing fibre intake.
Some liver diseases such as liver cancer may require surgical intervention and multidisciplinary approach.
Liver Disease Prevention
Several liver diseases can be effectively prevented. It is recommended that you should understand your individual risk for liver problems. The below lifestyle modifications can help in prompt liver disease prevention:
- Avoid alcohol consumption
- Eat a healthy, nutrient-dense diet
- Manage underlying health problems such as diabetes and hypertension
- Exercising regularly
- Limiting intake of red meat
- Get vaccinated for hepatitis
- Avoid coming in contact with other people’s blood and body fluids
- Avoid the intake of contaminated food
- Maintain a healthy weight
Top five signs of liver damage include fluid retention, jaundice, loss of appetite, pale stools and bruising.
Liver damage can also cause kidney complications. This condition can restrict the flow of blood to the kidneys hampering their function leading to change in urinary patterns.
A range of liver problems can cause yellowing of the skin and eyes, known as jaundice.