Without a healthy liver, the rest of your body’s organs don’t function the way they should. Sometimes, this leads to irreversible, life-threatening conditions and even, in extreme cases, organ failure. The liver works hard to convert nutrients into chemicals that the body needs. It also filters out toxins and helps convert the food you eat into energy. Liver disease is any condition that affects the functioning of your liver. Also known as hepatic disease, there are many known causes and triggers of liver disease. Early diagnosis can help prevent further damage to the liver. Usually, most people with liver diseases don’t realize it until it’s too late. As liver damage progresses, it can lead to liver failure, cancer, and even death.
Types of Liver Disease
There are many types of liver disease, with most of them damaging the liver the same way. They include, but are not limited to, the following:
This is a viral infection that causes inflammation and damage to the liver. There are five types of hepatitis and all are contagious. Vaccination against hepatitis types A and B is important to reduce your risk.
- Hepatitis A spreads through contaminated water and food. The case will usually clear on its own and without treatment.
- Hepatitis B can be acute or chronic. It spreads through contact with bodily fluids like semen or blood. Hepatitis B is treatable but there is no cure.
- Hepatitis C can also be short-term or long-term. You get it when you come into contact with the blood of an infected person. It doesn’t cause any symptoms in the early stages. Without treatment, however, it soon progresses to irreversible liver damage.
- Hepatitis D can either be chronic or acute too. It is a much more serious form of hepatitis that develops in people with hepatitis B already.
- Hepatitis E occurs when you drink contaminated water. It clears on its own in a couple of weeks without leaving any long-term complications.
Fatty Liver Disease
This type of liver disease occurs when fat builds up in the liver. There are two types of fatty liver disease: alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Alcoholic fatty liver disease occurs due to heavy consumption of alcohol. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is caused by other factors. When left untreated, both types can lead to liver damage, cirrhosis, and liver failure.
Autoimmune Liver Conditions
This is where the immune system attacks healthy cells. Autoimmune conditions include autoimmune hepatitis, primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC), and primary sclerosing cholangitis.
Autoimmune hepatitis occurs when the immune system attacks the liver. This, in turn, results in inflammation. If not treated, autoimmune hepatitis can lead to liver failure and cirrhosis. PBC occurs when the bile ducts in the liver are damaged. This leads to bile buildup, cirrhosis, and liver failure. Primary sclerosing cholangitis results from damage of the bile ducts. They become blocked, leading to bile build-up. If untreated, it can lead to cirrhosis as well as a liver failure too.
Genetic Liver Conditions
Sometimes you can inherit genetic conditions that may cause liver damage. They include hemochromatosis, Wilson’s disease, and Alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency. Hemochromatosis leads to the body storing more iron than needed. Wilson’s disease results in the absorption of excessive copper. The copper travels to other parts of the body, like the brain, leading to organ failure and even death.
Liver cancers usually develop in the liver first. Sometimes, other cancers may spread to the liver, leading to secondary liver cancer. Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common type of cancer that affects the liver. Some liver conditions, if left untreated, can also leave you prone to liver cancer.
Liver cirrhosis is liver scarring that occurs after conditions like alcohol use disorder. Liver cirrhosis isn’t liver cancer. Most people with liver cancer, however, also have liver cirrhosis. If you have liver cirrhosis, your risk of liver cancer increases. In the early stages, liver cirrhosis can be treated by addressing the underlying causes.
Symptoms of Liver Disease
Some common symptoms of liver disease include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fatigue and weakness
- Upper abdominal pain
- Appetite loss leading to weight loss
Diagnosis of Liver Disease
Diagnosis involves tests like liver function tests, blood count tests, ultrasounds, MRIs, CT scans, or a liver biopsy.
How to Treat Liver Disease
Most liver diseases last for years and may never clear completely. Such conditions can, however, be managed by making a few lifestyle changes. These include:
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Limiting alcohol intake
- Switching to a healthy diet
- Drinking lots of fluids
Sometimes, however, medical treatment may be necessary. The doctor can recommend treatment options like:
- Antiviral medications to treat hepatitis
- Blood pressure drugs
- Steroids to manage liver inflammation
- Supplements and vitamins
- Liver transplant — if the damage is irreversible
How to Manage Liver Disease
If you have liver disease, the best thing you can do is to not aggravate the condition further by:
- Limiting your alcohol intake
- Exercising some more to prevent obesity and maintain a healthy weight
- Starting to eat a healthy diet and drinking more water
- Taking vitamins and supplements to boost your liver health
- Taking your recommended medications to manage any liver damage
- What are the main risk factors of liver disease? Alcohol abuse, obesity, and undiagnosed hepatitis increase your risk of liver disease.
- What can you do to prevent liver disease? Regular screenings are the only way to ensure that you don’t develop liver disease. Exercising and minimizing your alcohol consumption are also vital.
- Can liver cirrhosis be cured? There is no cure for liver cirrhosis. The damage to the liver is mostly permanent. You can reduce some damage through certain lifestyle changes.
Healthier Me Today is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment, always consult with your healthcare professional. Stay healthy!