Overview and Facts
Liver disease is not a single disease, rather it is a general term that covers a number of diseases and conditions of the liver. The liver is the largest internal organ and carries out hundreds of metabolic functions. It aids in the digestion of food, the removal of wastes and toxins from the bloodstream, and stores energy. When this vital organ suffers from disease and deterioration, the signs of liver disease manifest.
Problems of the liver have a wide variety of causes and may be short-term with full recovery or long-term with ongoing degeneration of the organ. Liver failure occurs when the liver has become so damaged it loses its ability to carry out its multiple functions. The condition is potentially fatal, requiring immediate medical care.
Signs and Symptoms
While there are many specific liver diseases, the resulting dysfunction of the organ gives rise to many liver disease symptoms common to all forms of problems with the liver. The liver has a vast array of vital functions, so difficulties with the liver are reflected in a wide variety of symptoms. Medical attention is required if abdominal pain is severe or if any of the following symptoms become persistent.
- Skin and eyes appear yellowish.
- The urine is dark in color.
- The skin is itchy for no apparent reason.
- The stool is discolored, possibly pale or very dark and bloody.
- The patient may experience unexplained fatigue for long periods of time.
- Appetite loss is common.
As deterioration of the organ continues, the above symptoms may become more severe and the following may also occur.
- The abdomen is swollen and painful.
- Nausea and diarrhea are frequent.
- Unexplained sleep disturbances or mental confusion are apparent.
Causes and Diagnosis
Liver disease from alcohol use is known as cirrhosis, although hepatitis, fatty liver aggravated by diabetes or obesity, and anything else that leads to liver degeneration can cause cirrhosis. As the liver is damaged, healthy tissue is replaced by scar tissue that is incapable of carrying out the normal functions of the liver. Hepatitis A, B and C are caused by viruses that affect the liver. Other common causes of liver disease include heredity, cancer, and parasitic and other infections. Health care professionals use the presence of liver disease symptoms as well as various tests to determine if a patient has liver disease.
Chronic liver failure is frequently the end result of long-term liver disease or malnutrition, whereas acute liver failure occurs suddenly as a result of drug overdose, viruses, medications and poisoning. An overdose of the acetaminophen, a common pain reliever, causes liver failure.
Tests and Treatment Options
If the signs of liver disease are present, health care professionals use a variety of tests to determine the exact type and cause of liver disease.
- Blood Tests – Blood tests are used to determine liver function as well as to detect the presence of pathogens.
- Biopsy – A liver biopsy is used to examine a small sample of the liver tissue.
- Imaging – A variety of soft tissue imaging methods, such as ultrasound, computerized tomography and magnetic resonance imaging, are used to detect physical abnormalities in the liver.
Treatments for liver disease vary depending on the specific type of liver disease and its progress. Some forms of liver disease respond to medication, whereas others require surgery. Liver failure treatments differ for chronic and acute causes of failure. A liver transplant is required if even a small, healthy portion of the liver cannot be saved in cases of chronic liver failure. The liver may recover if an acute failure is caused by viruses. Drug and poison induced acute liver failure can sometimes be reversed with treatment.
Helpful Tips and Home Remedies
Changing lifestyle choices is a way of maintaining a healthy liver, preventing the onset of liver disease or possibly slowing the progression of disease.
Home remedies for cold and flu:
- Avoid excessive alcohol.
- Be aware what medications can interact with the liver, and have liver function testing done if recommended by your health care professional.
- Eat a balanced diet with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
- Some herbs are believed to support liver function including dandelion and milk thistle.
Preventative measures can reduce the risk of acquiring the viruses that cause hepatitis.
- Get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B.
- Avoid blood and body fluids.
- Get only professionally done tattoos and piercings.
- Never share razors, toothbrushes and other personal care items.
- Use protection during sex.
- Drug uses should never share needles.