Liver Disease

Liver Disease includes any medical conditions or health complaints that afflict or originate in the Liver. The Liver performs 100’s of useful functions, including nutrient storage, filtering and processing of chemicals contained in food, detoxifying harmful substances, purifying your blood, manufacturing vital nutrients, and bile production, 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 (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. These symptoms are common to most of the conditions described below.

A number of factors can cause serious Liver disease, which is called hepatitis, such as alcohol, certain drugs, and viral infections. These are explored, along with other conditions, below.

Alcoholic Hepatitis

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 scaring 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 loss of appetite.

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 to Liver failure.

However, when diagnosed and treated early, Autoimmune Hepatitis can usually be controlled with long-term use of immune system suppression drugs. If these drugs aren’t effective, then a Liver transplant may be required. The main symptoms of Autoimmune Hepatitis include abdominal pain, nausea, confusion, itching, vomiting, joint ache, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes), abdominal swelling due to fluid accumulation (ascites), and other symptoms.

Cirrhosis

Condition that causes irreversible scarring of the Liver. When this occurs, scar tissue replaces normal tissue, blood flow through the Liver is reduced, and it is increasingly difficult for the Liver to carry out the essential functions it performs. The condition 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 Liver function deteriorates, the symptoms include fatigue, nausea, unintended weight loss, swelling in the legs and abdomen, and in later stages, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes), itching, and bleeding from your digestive system that can be severe. Liver damage caused by cirrhosis is permanent and irreversible, however, the disease usually progresses slowly and the symptoms it causes are usually controllable.

Specific treatment depend on the underlying cause. However, people with cirrhosis must avoid alcohol and any other substances that can harm the Liver. If Liver function becomes seriously impaired, a Liver transplant may be the only option. If sufficient treatment is not conducted in time, Cirrhosis can be fatal.

Enlarged Liver

Also called Hepatomegaly. Not a disease, but 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 (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes) may occur if the Liver becomes so large that function is affected.

Gilbert’s Syndrome

Also known as Constitutional Hepatic Dysfunction, Unconjugated Benign Bilirubinemia, and Familial Nonhemolytic Jaundice, this is a common but mild disorder in which the Liver cannot properly process a substance, called bilirubin, which is produced by the breakdown of red blood cells. Gilbert’s Syndrome doesn’t usually require treatment, it usually doesn’t pose any serious health issues, and the only symptom it may cause is a mild jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes). For these reasons, Gilbert’s Syndrome is usually not considered a disease at all.

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 organs and lead to a range of life-threatening conditions including 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

Highly contagious Liver infection which is 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 against Hepatitis A.

Hepatitis B

Serious Liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV), which can be contracted by contact with the infected blood and body fluids, for example as the result of infected blood transfusions, 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 (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes).

Hepatitis C

Generally considered the most serious of 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 the infected blood, for example as the result of infected blood transfusions, or when intravenous (IV) drug users share needles. HCV is particularly dangerous because those infected show no symptoms until serious and irreversible Liver damage occurs decades after they were infected. In the earlier 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, fever, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes).

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

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, which occurs when fat accumulates in the Liver, a condition that usually causes no Liver damage. 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.

In some cases, NASH can progress to cirrhosis or Liver cancer. In the early stages, NAFLD causes mild, if any, symptoms such as fatigue and slight abdominal pain. 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 (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes). 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

Disease which slowly destroys the Liver’s bile ducts, reducing the Livers ability to transport bile, a fluid essential for digestion and 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 currently 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

Disease that causes inflammation, hardening and scaring of the bile ducts inside and outside the Liver, and this impedes the flow of bile through the ducts and reduces 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 currently been determined, but autoimmune factors are suspected.

The symptoms include abdominal pain, fatigue, nausea, itchiness, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes). 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

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 (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes), dark urine, unintended weight loss, and/or loss of appetite.

Wilson’s Disease

Inherited disorder that causes excess copper to accumulate in the Liver, brain, and other vital organs. Copper plays a key role in the development of healthy nerves, bones, skin, to name a few. Normally, copper 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, over years, it accumulates to life-threatening levels. People with Wilson’s Disease are born with the condition, however, 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, bones, as well as various neurological problems, behavioral problems, and psychological problems.

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