What is Liver Disease?
The liver is an organ about the size of a football. It 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). Liver problems can also be caused by a variety of factors that damage the liver, such as viruses, alcohol use and obesity.
Liver damage typically has four stages. Liver disease refers to any condition that inflames or damages your liver. Damage to your liver can accumulate through several stages of liver disease. Each stage has a cumulative effect on your liver’s ability to function properly.
The Four Stages of Liver Damage or Disease
- end-stage liver disease (ESLD)
Stages of liver damage or disease – Damage from liver disease can accrue throughout several stages. With each stage, your liver’s ability to function is increasingly affected.
Stage 1 – Inflammation
In this early stage, your liver becomes enlarged or inflamed. Many people with liver inflammation don’t experience symptoms. If the inflammation continues, permanent liver damage can occur.
Stage 2 – Fibrosis
Fibrosis happens when an inflamed liver begins to develop scars. The scar tissue that’s generated in this stage takes the place of healthy liver tissue, but it can’t perform the same functions. This can start to affect your liver’s ability to function optimally. Liver fibrosis can be hard to detect because symptoms aren’t often present.
Stage 3 – Cirrhosis
In cirrhosis, severe liver scarring has occurred, leading to a buildup of scar tissue. Because there isn’t as much healthy liver tissue, it becomes very difficult for your liver to function properly. While symptoms may not have been present in earlier stages, you may begin to experience symptoms of liver disease.
End-Stage Liver Disease (ESLD)
ESLD is an umbrella term that can be used to describe conditions such as:
Causes of Liver Damage and Failure
Causes of liver damage and failure include:
- viral infections, such as:
- genetic conditions, such as Wilson’s disease
- autoimmune conditions, such as autoimmune hepatitis
- alcohol misuse
- alcohol-related liver disease
- nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- diseases that affect your bile ducts, such as cholangitis
- conditions that affect the veins of the liver, such as Budd-Chiari syndrome
- overdose of acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- reactions to other medications, such as antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or antiepileptic drugs
- reactions to herbal supplements, such as ma huangand kava kava
- exposure to toxins, such as those found in industrial chemicals or poisonous wild mushrooms
Symptoms of Liver Damage and Failure
Inflammation and fibrosis, the earliest stages of liver damage or disease, rarely cause noticeable symptoms. Symptoms are associated with more advanced stages.
Symptoms of Cirrhosis – Early on, cirrhosis may cause symptoms such as:
- tiredness or weakness
- loss of appetite
- unexplained weight loss
- mild abdominal pain
- nausea and vomiting
Symptoms of ESLD – The symptoms of ESLD can include:
- confusion or disorientation
- severe skin itching
- easy bruising or bleeding
- the buildup of fluid in your abdomen, arms, or legs
- abdominal discomfort or pain
- loss of appetite
- darkening of your urine
- pale stools
- blood in your vomit or stool
- nausea or vomiting
Diagnosis of Liver Issues
To diagnose liver issues, a doctor will start by taking your medical history and performing a physical examination. Afterward, they may perform a variety of additional tests, including:
- Liver function tests: Liver function tests assess the levels of various proteins and enzymes in your blood. These proteins and enzymes can indicate how well your liver functions.
- Other blood tests: The doctor may also perform a complete blood count or test for conditions that can cause liver damage, such as viral hepatitis or genetic conditions.
- Imaging tests: Imaging technology such as an ultrasound, a CT scan, or an MRI can help the doctor visualize your liver.
- Biopsy: Taking a tissue sample from your liver can help the doctor see if scar tissue is present. The sample can also help them identify what may be causing your condition. Learn more about liver biopsy.
Tips for a Healthy Liver
You can help prevent liver damage, disease, and failure by making lifestyle changes that keep your liver happy and healthy. Here are some tips for improving liver health:
- Drink alcohol in moderation, and never mix medications with alcohol.
- Take medications only when needed, and carefully follow any dosing instructions.
- Consult a doctor before mixing medications.
- Maintain a moderate weight. There’s a connection between obesity and fatty liver disease.
- Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
- Have regular physicals during which your doctor performs liver function tests.
Many foods contain specific compounds or antioxidants that have been shown to support liver function. A few examples include grapefruit, blueberries, cranberries, fatty fish, olive oil, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, or cauliflower.
Disclaimer As always, the above article is only for education, always check with your physician. My Disclaimer Here.
Notes: Some images provided by Mayo Clinic and information provided by HealthLine.com