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Liver Disease

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The liver is a vital organ in the body. It is located on the upper-right hand side of the abdomen. The liver is as large as a football and can perform many functions in the body. The functions of the liver include metabolizing and detoxifying substances in the blood, themetabolism of nutrients from food, regulation of blood clotting process, production of enzymes as well as proteins, maintain hormonal balance, storage of important vitamins as well as help the body fight infections by filtering bacteria from the blood.

As it carries out a multitude of functions, the liver is prone to damage and diseases. Let us learn more about liver disease in the following paragraphs.

What is Liver Disease?

There are many conditions that affect the health and functioning of the liver. These conditions are collectively known as liver diseases or hepatic diseases. The liver has the ability to regenerate itself and continue to function even when it is damaged. Thus, there are very few symptoms of liver disease observed in the initial stages. This causes many liver diseases to remain undiagnosed during the early course of the condition.

The liver disease can lead to death and therefore it is very important to look after the liver and follow medical advice to overcome any condition affecting this vital organ.

Types of Liver Disease

There are over 100 liver disease that can affect millions of people around the world. Some of these types of liver diseases are discussed below:

  • Alcoholic liver disease: Alcoholism can lead to many liver conditions such as alcoholic hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, fatty liver disease.
  • Acute liver failure:The sudden, rapid decrease in liver function leads to acute liver failure. This occurs due to use of drugs or intake of toxins and poisons as well as a variety of liver diseases.
  • Autoimmune-associated liver disease:When the body’s defense system starts targeting the body’s own cells, it leads to an autoimmune disorder. Primary biliary cirrhosis, autoimmune hepatitis, primary sclerosing cholangitis are some of the conditions, where the immune system targets the liver cells, damaging the organ.
  • Cirrhosis: When the damaged liver cells cover the liver, it leads to scarring. There are many conditions that can lead to scarring of the liver,  reducing its functioning capacity. These conditions include alcoholism, chronic bile duct obstruction, chronic hepatitis, etc.
  • Budd-Chiari syndrome:When blood clots block the blood flow from the liver, it leads to enlarged liver, abdominal pain, jaundice, ascites, etc. This blockage can occur due to liver injury, parasitic infection, hypercoagulable disorders, cancer.
  • Bile Duct Obstruction:The partial or complete blockage of the bile ducts can lead to liver disease. The obstruction can occur due to inflammation of the gallbladder, tumors or trauma.
  • Hepatitis: Chronic or acute liver inflammation due to viral infection, drugs, toxins, autoimmune diseases,  etc. can lead to liver disease.
  • Cancer: Liver cancer is one of the causes of liver disease.
  • Genetic: In many cases, genes play a vital role in developing liver disease. These genetic mutations or diseases that affect the liver include Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, hemochromatosis, Wilson’s disease

Symptoms

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The general signs and symptoms of liver disease include:

  • Yellow discoloration of skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Itchy skin
  • Dark urine
  • Pain and swelling in abdomen (ascites)
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pale/clay colored stool
  • Unexplained weight gain or loss

In chronic liver disease, the symptoms present themselves, only when the disease reaches an advanced stage.

Diagnosis of Liver Disease

Diagnosis of liver disease is carried out with the help of liver function test (LFTs). The blood test is carried out to check for the presence of certain enzymes that are found in the liver. Their presence indicates liver disease.

Treatment of Liver Disease

Treatment for liver disease depends on the type of condition one has. Most conditions can be controlled with the help of medications. Change in diet, quitting on alcohol and smoking, etc. also helps reduce the damage to the liver. In extreme cases, liver transplantation is carried out to save the life of the patient.

There are vaccines available that help prevent hepatitis A and B infections. Thus, protecting the liver from a possible infection. One should limit their alcohol intake as it is one of the major causes of liver damage. Eat the right diet and avoid doing drugs. Speak to your doctor regarding the conditions affecting your liver. Proper medical care can help the resilient liver overcome any trauma or inflammation.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 01, 2015