Your Guide to Navigating Liver Disease

There are numerous types of liver disease that affect people of all backgrounds and ages. Every year in the United States, about 31,000 deaths are attributed to the liver disease cirrhosis. Hepatitis B and C are two additional common liver diseases. In the United States, approximately 4.6 million people have chronic hepatitis C. Every year in the United States, about 2.2 million people acquire hepatitis B. Cirrhosis is characterized by scarring on the liver. It can occur as a result of several conditions and issues, such as chronic alcoholism and hepatitis. In most cases, the damage that occurs with this disease cannot be reversed.

Hepatitis C causes liver inflammation and it is a type of viral infection. The most common cause is receiving or coming into contact with contaminated blood. The chronic type of this infection can remain in the body and cause damage for years without causing outward symptoms. By the time patients notice a problem, the liver damage can range from moderate to severe.

Hepatitis B is another viral infection that affects the liver. It can become a chronic issue. Over time, permanent liver scarring is possible. Infected semen, blood and other bodily fluid is how this infection is transmitted. When left untreated, this condition may lead to liver failure or cancer of the liver.

How Does it Work?: Liver Disease

Understanding the pathophysiology of liver disease and how it affects the body is imperative for seeing how liver disease works. The liver is just below the diaphragm in the upper right-hand abdominal area. It has two main lobes and holds approximately one pint of the blood that supplies the body. A healthy liver works to do the following:

  • Producing blood plasma proteins
  • Producing bile
  • Carrying fats through the body
  • Turning glucose into glycogen
  • Regulating amino acid levels
  • Processing of hemoglobin
  • Regulating blood clotting
  • Clearing toxins and drugs from the blood
  • Aiding the immune system
  • Clearing bilirubin

There are four primary stages with liver diseases. These stages include:

  • Inflammation of the liver initiates the damage
  • Fibrosis of the liver where scarring starts to occur
  • Cirrhosis of the liver where the scarring becomes permanent and can block blood flow to the liver
  • Liver failure where the normal functions of the liver start to decline

Liver disease may also result in liver cancer. Liver diseases are typically a primary risk factor for liver cancer. During any stage, the liver might not perform all of its necessary functions at an optimal level. This can result in a wealth of symptoms, such as:

  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss
  • Jaundice
  • Swelling in the legs and abdomen
  • Spider angiomas
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Skin itching
  • Drowsiness, confusion and slurred speech
  • Abdominal pain

Fatty Liver Disease

One specific subset of liver disease is called fatty liver disease. Fatty liver comes in different forms including alcoholic and non alcoholic forms. Fatty liver happens when the liver becomes saturated with fat. It’s likely to occur when people drink far too much. Typically, there are no symptoms of fatty liver disease and the discovery will come from blood testing. Fatty liver often comes in conjunction with cirrhosis which will provide the symptoms people are expecting.

The Checklist: Important Points Regarding Liver Disease

With so much information to know about liver disease, it can be daunting. The following are among the most important points:

  • o reduce the risk of liver disease, avoid alcohol, maintain a healthy weight, eat healthy and avoid high-risk behaviors that could result in repeated contact with blood, semen and other bodily fluids.
  • There are typically five stages to liver disease.
  • There are treatments for liver diseases, but not all of the diseases are curable.
  • The most common cause of liver failure is cirrhosis. When this is the cause, the liver failure typically occurs over time, making it a chronic issue. Malnutrition can also cause liver failure, and in this case, it is typically acute.
  • There are more than 100 different types of liver failure.

For further information, talk to a doctor. They can examine patients and help them to assess their risk. If liver disease is present, they will work with patients to determine the best course of treatment.

Questions and Answers

The above information provides the basics, but due to the complexity of liver disease, it is common for patients to still have questions. Here are some common questions and answers regarding liver disease.

Q. What is the Most Common Chronic Liver Disease Cause?

A. In the United States, alcohol abuse is the most common cause. Alcohol is toxic to the cells of the liver. Frequent and heavy alcohol consumption can cause liver inflammation and eventually cirrhosis.

Q. How Are Cirrhosis and Hepatitis Diagnosed?

A. Only a biopsy of the liver can definitively diagnose cirrhosis. The doctor takes a small sample of liver tissue and examines it using a microscope. Blood testing is typically used to diagnose hepatitis. A biopsy might be performed for hepatitis also to assess the level of damage caused by the hepatitis.

Q. Can Doctors Reverse Liver Damage?

A. The liver can regenerate. However, if scar tissue is progressive, someone frequently and heavily uses alcohol or drugs, or a virus is present attacking the liver, the damage can become permanent. This is because these issues essentially do not give the liver the chance to complete regeneration.

Q. What is Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?

This is among the most common liver diseases. The primary cause is obesity. It is characterized by the liver cells having too much fat in them. At its most severe, this condition can lead to cirrhosis, and eventually, liver failure.


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