13 questions and answers about liver disease. What, how, treatment and more.
What is the liver?
The liver is cone shaped and a dark red brown color. It is on top of the stomach and in the upper right side of the abdominal cavity. The liver is 3 pounds and similar in size to a football. It is the largest organ in your body.
The liver has two lobes that are each made up of eight parts. Each of the parts has 1,000 smaller lobes. Tubes are connected to all the smaller lobes. Then those connect to the common hepatic duct that transports bile to the gallbladder and the small intestine.
What does the liver do?
The liver helps your body remove poisons, digest food and store energy. It then creates bile which transports the waste products out of the liver.
Blood enters the liver from the stomach and the intestines. The liver then breaks it down to create absorbable nutrients. One vital job of the liver is to break down medications to a form that is non-toxic to our bodies.
When the liver has broken the substances down the waste, or by-products, is carried away through the bile or blood. The bile by-products leave your body through your feces.
The liver has at least 500 known functions. HopkinsMedicine.org shares a few of the well-known functions:
- Cleans the blood of poisonous substances like drugs or alcohol.
- Converts excess glucose to glycogen for storage for later use.
- Regulating blood clotting.
- Making blood proteins
- These help with clotting, a healthy immune system and transporting oxygen
- Producing cholesterol by breaking down saturated fats.
- Production of bile.
- Bile helps break down food then carry the away waste.
- Bile also breaks down fats in the small intestine.
- Production of some proteins for blood plasma.
- Store iron from processed hemoglobin.
What causes liver disease?
There are many reasons that liver disease happens. Viruses like Hepatitis A, B or C, cause liver disease.
Genetics may also affect the liver. It is possible to inherit the genes from one or both of your parents. Alpha-1 Antitrypsin deficiency, Hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease are three known genetic conditions associated with liver disease. `
Fatty liver disease happens when fat builds up in the liver. Alcoholic fatty liver and cirrhosis are conditions caused by too much alcohol, drugs or poisons. Liver cancer is another disease people may experience.
It is possible from some autoimmune diseases to create liver disease. Autoimmune diseases are ones that attack parts of the body instead of helping it. Three examples are autoimmune hepatitis, primary biliary cholangitis, and primary sclerosing cholangitis.
This list of diseases includes cancers. Bile duct cancer and liver adenoma each affect the liver. The liver itself may also develop cancer.
According to the Liver Foundation, there are over 100 kinds of liver disease.
Does alcohol cause liver disease?
There is a direct link between liver disease and excessive alcohol consumption. There are three types of alcohol related liver disease; alcohol related cirrhosis, fatty liver, and alcoholic hepatitis.
According to the Liver Foundation, almost all heavy alcohol drinkers develop fatty liver disease. Thirty-five percent of heavy drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis. Between ten and twenty percent have cirrhosis.
What is fatty liver disease?
A buildup of fat in your liver causes this condition. There are two types of fatty liver disease that are the most common; Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) and alcoholic steatohepatitis.
A buildup of excess fat in the liver creates this disease. It is common to have some fat in your liver. The problem happens when there is too much for the liver to continue functioning.
What are liver disease symptoms?
According to the Mayo Clinic, live disease does not always cause symptoms. If there are symptoms, they may include:
|Symptoms of Liver Disease|
|Abdominal pain and swelling||Eyes that appear yellowish (Jaundice||Pale stool color|
|Bruising easily||Fingertips enlarging (clubbing)||Skin appears yellowish (jaundice)|
|Chronic fatigue||Itchy skin||Swelling in legs and ankles|
|Dark urine color||Loss of appetite||Vomiting or nausea|
How is liver disease diagnosed?
Diagnosis most often begins with your primary care provider. When symptoms occur, your doctor will need to determine the cause. The most common place to start will be a series of blood tests called liver function tests. In addition, your doctor may need to perform one or more imaging tests. These include a CT scan, MRI, or ultrasound.
The doctor performs a biopsy if blood work or imaging showed liver disease. The most common biopsy procedure uses a long needle inserted into the liver through your abdomen. A small sample of tissue is removed. The tissue is examined under a microscope to help determine the severity of the disease.
Two less commonly performed biopsies are the transjugular and laparoscopic procedures. A vein in your neck is used for the transjugular biopsy. When the laparoscopic biopsy is performed, a small incision is made in your abdomen.
Can liver disease cause a rash or itchy skin?
Yes, there are skin conditions linked to liver disease. Some people have itching in a localized area or all over the body. The severity ranges from mild to an all over rash and constant itching. The earlier a doctor finds the reason for the skin issue, the more likely it is to treat it successfully.
The clinical term for liver disease induced itching is pruritus. It is not common in fatty liver disease. However, it happens to some patients with primary biliary cholangitis (PBC), primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), or intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy. Although scientists have linked these conditions to liver disease, there is more research needed to find out the exact cause.
The most well-known liver disease skin condition is jaundice (yellowing of skin or eyes).
|Liver Disease Related Skin Conditions|
What does liver disease or failure do to your body?
There are many complications that happen to your body when you have liver failure or disease. The symptoms listed above are the most commonly known. With your immune system compromised, your body is at risk of many added medical issues.
Is liver disease painful?
The upper right abdomen is where most people will feel a dull pain. A throbbing sensation may accompany it. Less commonly, people experience a horrible stabbing pain. Some people describe it as a pain that stops you in your tracks.
It is possible that the pain will be so minimal that you dismiss it. When it persists or is accompanied by other known liver disease symptoms, see your doctor. They will do a physical exam to determine if you need further testing.
How is liver disease treated?
A hepatologist is a doctor that diagnoses and treats disease of the liver, pancreas and gallbladder. There is not just one treatment plan for all forms of liver disease. The hepatologist will determine the cause of liver disease before developing a treatment plan.
First steps to treating non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are lifestyle changes like diet and exercise. For patients that have alcohol related liver disease, the doctor will advise they immediately stop drinking alcohol. The treatment after that will depend on the severity of the damage. If hepatitis A, B or C has caused the condition, there are a wide range of treatments.
Can liver disease be cured?
There is not an absolute cure for liver disease. However, you can reduce the amount of damage caused in the future and work towards reversing current damage. Working with your doctor and carefully following the treatment plan will increase your odds of improvement.
What is liver failure?
Chronic liver failure happens over a long period. Acute liver failure happens within days or weeks.
It is possible that liver disease will progress to failure. If the condition was not found early, treatment was not followed or other complications happened. Early detection and following the doctors instructions help prevent failure.
Acute liver failure is less common than chronic. We also know it as fulminant hepatic failure. The most common causes are drugs such as acetaminophen or a hepatitis virus. Unfortunately, many acute liver failures require a liver transplant.
For all types of liver disease, early detection is important. A healthy lifestyle, balanced diet, and limited alcohol consumption are all positive steps to prevention. Share your symptoms with a doctor and let them help determine if there is a need for concern.