The main function of your liver is to keep you healthy. It is an important organ to digest food, to turn nutrients into chemicals that your body requires and to turn food into energy, and clear your body of toxins. When your liver fails to perform its designated functions, it can cause significant damage to your whole body. Any disturbance of liver function that causes illness is liver disease. Liver disease is a general term covering all the potential problems that cause your liver to stop working properly.
Since there is a wide variety of liver disease, the symptoms are usually specific for that illness. Most types do not cause any symptoms in the early stages, and the symptoms occur when your liver is already damaged and scarred. General symptoms of liver disease can include vomiting, abdominal pain, jaundice, nausea, ongoing fatigue, weakness, decreased appetite, easy bruising, dark urine, and weight loss. Liver disease is caused by many conditions and factors, the following are some of the most common causes.
Inflammation by parasites and viruses can reduce liver function. The viruses may be spread through contaminated food or water, blood, semen, or close contact with an infected person. The most common types are hepatitis viruses. All types of hepatitis are contagious and the best way to prevent it is by getting vaccinated for types A and B, practicing safe sex, and not sharing needles with anyone. There are five types of hepatitis:
- Hepatitis A mostly occurs when you eat or drink something that is contaminated by fecal matter. You may not feel any symptoms, but if you do, it may clear up without treatment. It can go away by itself after a few months without any long-term issues.
- Hepatitis B can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). Most people usually get it from someone else through bodily fluids, such as blood and semen. This type is treatable, but there is no cure for it. To avoid complications, make sure you get early treatment and get regular screenings. It makes you more likely to get liver cancer if it lasts for more than six months.
- Hepatitis C can also be acute or chronic. It comes from the blood of someone with hepatitis C that gets into your blood. It usually spreads when you take drugs with shared needles or if you are a healthcare practitioner, you might get it accidentally from an infected needle. It does not cause any symptoms in the early stages, but it may lead to permanent liver damage.
- Hepatitis D only develops in people with Hepatitis B. It is a serious type of hepatitis that can’t be contracted on its own.
- Hepatitis E mainly caused by drinking contaminated water. It may clear up on its own without any permanent complications.
The job of your immune system is to fight off invaders such as bacteria and viruses. However, it sometimes mistakenly attacks healthy cells in your body and other healthy parts such as your liver. Several autoimmune conditions that attack your cells and liver are:
- Autoimmune hepatitis is a condition where your immune system attacks the liver and it results in inflammation. If you leave it untreated, it may lead to liver failure.
- Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) is a result of the damage to tiny tubes in your liver called bile ducts and it can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis is an inflammatory condition that causes gradual damage to your bile ducts. The damage can eventually block the bile ducts and this condition may lead to liver cancer and you may end up needing a liver transplant.
Liver disease can be inherited if it runs in your family.
- Hemochromatosis is a condition where your body stores too much iron from your food than what you actually need. That extra iron remains in your liver, heart, and other organs. If you leave it untreated, it may lead to life-threatening conditions.
- Wilson’s disease causes your liver to build up copper in your liver instead of realizing it to the bile duct. In the long run, your liver can get damaged and will store more copper and allow it to travel through the bloodstream. It can cause nerve and psychiatric problems.
- Hyperoxaluria happens when your urine has too much oxalate. Oxalate is a chemical and a natural part of your system. Your liver makes a chemical that controls oxalate, but if your liver makes too little of that chemical, oxalate can build up and cause kidney stones or kidney failure.
Cancer and Tumors
Cancer can develop in your liver, or it can also start elsewhere in your body and spread to the liver.
- Liver cancer happens when you already have hepatitis or drink too much. The most common type of liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma that tends to develop as several spots of cancer in your liver.
- Bile duct cancer affects the tubes that run from the liver to the small intestine to carry bile. It is uncommon, but it mainly affects people over the age of 50.
Liver disease can be caused by other factors, such as drug overdose, alcohol abuse, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Dire complications of liver disease are acute liver failure and cirrhosis. The treatment for liver disease may vary according to each cause. Many liver diseases last for years or may never go away. Some people have managed to keep the symptoms away by changing their lifestyles, such as limiting alcohol, drinking more water, and adopting a diet that includes plenty of fiber, as well as reducing fat, sugar, and salt. Depending on which condition you have, you may need medical treatment, including antiviral drugs, steroids, blood pressure medication, and antibiotics.
Most liver disease can be managed if you treat them early. Just like every other disease, it is best to prevent them from happening. Make sure to attend routine checkups and maintain a healthy lifestyle.