Liver Disease: Types of Liver Problems, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Overview

Liver disease is an umbrella term that refers to any condition that affects the liver and its functionality.

It can range from mild inflammation to cirrhosis, which is a severe form of scarring on the liver as a result of chronic liver damage or disease. If left untreated, it can lead to liver failure and other forms of cancer.

The onset of liver disease can be difficult to detect, as many of the earliest signs and symptoms may go unnoticed until the illness has reached an advanced stage.

What are The General Symptoms?

Liver disease is a broad term that encompasses a number of diseases, viruses, and infections that can cause severe damage to the organ.

Since symptoms differ based on the type of liver disease present, it’s difficult to identify when someone has been affected by the condition. However, certain general signs can indicate the presence of damage, including:

  • Fatigue,
  • Weight loss or gain,
  • Nausea,
  • Itching,
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes,
  • Pale, bloody, or black stools can be signs of liver disease,
  • Ascites,
  • Liver encephalopathy

If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to contact your doctor for a diagnosis to determine the cause and seek treatment if necessary.

What are Some Common Liver Problems?

Liver disease, or hepatic disease, is a broad term that encompasses many different conditions and illnesses.

Regardless of the cause, it is important to take measures to prevent or treat liver disease in order to protect your overall health.

Genetic Conditions

Liver disease is a condition that can affect many people due to various causes. One cause of liver disease is genetic conditions which are inherited from either one biological parent. These conditions can have an impact on the functioning of the liver and the overall health of an individual.

Hemochromatosis, affects people who are genetically predisposed to absorb too much iron from their diet. If left untreated, hemochromatosis can cause serious damage to the liver over a long period of time.

Wilson’s Disease is a rare inherited disorder that results in an excessive buildup of copper in the body. It causes your liver to accummulate too much copper, which it usually would have released into your bile ducts.

When this occurs, the liver may become severely damaged, leading to copper spilling into other organs like the brain and causing serious damage.

Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency is a genetic disorder characterized by the liver’s inability to produce enough of an alpha-1 antitrypsin, a protein that helps protect against enzyme breakdowns in various parts of the body.

This condition can result in both liver and lung diseases, for which there is currently no cure. However, appropriate medical intervention can help improve symptoms and manage the disease.

Drug-induced Liver Disease

Excessive exposure to certain drugs and supplements can lead to liver damage according to a 2019 study.

Common examples of substances that could potentially be toxic for your liver include acetaminophen, antibiotics, antifungals, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and even some herbal medicines.

It is important to talk to your doctor before taking any type of medication and get regular liver function tests done if necessary.

Cancer

Liver cancer, also known as hepatic cancer, is a malignant tumor that develops in the liver.

Primary liver cancer arises from the cells of the liver itself, while secondary liver cancer originates from other parts of the body and spreads to the liver.

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common form of liver cancer and is characterized by multiple small patches of cancer cells or a single tumor in the liver.

Liver cancer is a form of cancer that may develop as a result of complications from other liver diseases, particularly if they are left untreated.

Cirrhosis

What is cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis is a type of liver disease caused by long-term damage to the liver leading to scarring, or fibrosis. Excessive alcohol consumption and certain illnesses, such as Hepatitis B and C and cystic fibrosis, can all cause cirrhosis.

In severe cases, it can lead to complete failure of the organ.

Liver disease, specifically cirrhosis, is a serious condition. It can often be managed or reversed with early treatment and addressing the root cause, but if still left untreated it can have life-threatening complications.

Autoimmune Conditions

Liver disease is any disruption of normal liver function, resulting from injury or infection. One such liver disorder is called autoimmune hepatitis — an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the liver, leading to inflammation and potential cirrhosis or even failure of the organ. Treatment is necessary in order to prevent serious complications.

Fatty Liver Disease

Fatty liver disease is a condition that develops when excess fat accumulates in the liver.

There are two main types of fatty liver: nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and alcoholic fatty liver disease. These two forms can present independently, or they can co-exist with one another.

Alcoholic fatty liver disease is a serious condition that affects the liver and is caused by excessive amounts of alcohol consumption. This type of liver disease can cause irreversible damage to the organ and could lead to serious health problems.

Another form of liver disease is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This type of liver condition is caused by other factors that experts are still trying to understand.

The good news is that with diet and lifestyle adjustments, symptoms can be improved and the risk of complications reduced.

How are Liver Diseases Diagnosed?

If you’re concerned about your liver health, it’s important to talk to a doctor or healthcare provider. They can help diagnose any potential underlying issues and provide advice on steps you can take to reduce the risk of developing liver disease.

To diagnose a liver disorder, your doctor will likely ask you about your symptoms and past medical history. They may also inquire about your lifestyle habits, such as diet and drinking, as well as any prescription or over-the-counter medications you take- even vitamins and supplements!

When gathering data on liver disease, doctors typically take into consideration a variety of factors. This could include medical history, lifestyle habits as well as a physical exam.

Based on this assessment, some possible recommendations may include monthly check-ups, blood tests and making lifestyle changes such as reducing alcohol consumption. Additionally, medications can also be prescribed to manage symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.

A complete blood count test is commonly used to diagnose liver disease. This test identifies any abnormalities in the number of red and white blood cells, as well as the platelet count. An abnormal CBC result can be indicative of a range of conditions, including those related to the liver.

An imaging test such as a CT scan, MRI, or ultrasound may be used to assess liver damage or detect tumors when diagnosing liver disease.

These tests help doctors detect any changes in the size, shape, and appearance of the liver and can help them identify any abnormalities that may be indicative of liver disease.

A liver biopsy is a procedure in which a small sample of tissue is taken from the liver and evaluated under a microscope to determine if there are signs of liver disease. The tissue samples can help diagnose conditions such as cirrhosis, hepatitis, and fatty liver disease.

Management And Treatment of Liver Disease

Managing or treating liver disease can take many forms, depending on the type of liver disease and how far it has progressed.

Treatment options can include:

Medications for viral infections or inherited disorders.

Lifestyle changes to improve fatty liver disease. Diet can play an important role in treatment, such as avoiding alcohol and limiting fats and calories while increasing fiber intake for those with fatty liver disease. Abstinence from alcohol has also been found to be effective in treating alcohol-related liver disease.

In cases of severe liver failure a Liver Transplant may be necessary.

Is Liver Disease Preventable?

Some liver diseases are preventable, especially those that are influenced by your diet and way of life. Your doctor could advise making the following modifications to your lifestyle if you have liver disease risk:

i. Limit or stay away from alcohol.

ii. Avoid trans fats and high sugar containing foods and beverages.

iii. To prevent liver damage, carefully monitor your intake of prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Medicines like acetaminophen are known to cause liver damage.

iv. Exercise on a regular basis.

v. Reduce the amount of red meat you eat.

vi. Engage in safe sexual behavior.

vii. Refraining from sharing needles.

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