The liver is a crucial organ in the body that serves many purposes. This includes helping digest food, producing blood clotting factors, and aiding in metabolism. However, the liver is often associated with alcohol, and alcohol is one of the causes of damage to the liver. But liver disease can be caused by many different sources, including statins, Vicodin, hepatitis, excess iron, as well as alcohol abuse, and other conditions as well.
We take a look at liver disease and the symptoms caused, so that you can spot problems before you do permanent damage to this important organ of the body.
Causes of Liver Disease
Liver disease is classified as any break in liver function that produces sickness in the patient. Should the liver begin to fail, it can affect many different processes in the body.
If liver disease isn’t caught early, it can cause serious damage to the body. Sometimes referred to as a hepatic disease, liver disease is a catch-all term that describes any failure of any function in the liver.
However, typically a large proportion of the liver has to suffer damage before it begins to fail to operate as it should. The liver can continue functioning normally with up to around three-quarters of the organ damaged.
The liver is actually the largest solid organ within the body, and since it offers so many functions, is sometimes thought of as a gland. Protected by the rib cage, and supplied with two different sources of blood, the liver processes and filters digestive tract chemicals before they move on to other areas of the body.
Liver damage can occur in a number of ways. Liver cells can become inflamed by diseases like hepatitis, and the flow of bile can be blocked. Cholesterol build-up can cause damage and blood supply restriction. Chemicals can damage the cells, and abnormal cells can take over as in a tumor. But the biggest cause of damage to the liver is alcohol abuse.
Alcohol and Liver Disease
Alcohol is a toxic chemical and it particularly affects liver cells. It can cause inflammation known as alcoholic hepatitis.
Prolonged alcohol abuse can lead to an accumulation of fat in the liver. This build-up of fat in liver cells prevents their proper functioning. If this damage is allowed to continue unchecked, it leads to what is known as cirrhosis of the liver.
Cirrhosis of the liver is categorized as end-stage liver disease. It indicates a loss of ability for the liver cells to function as they should. It means that there is scarring in the liver as well as fat preventing the cells from working correctly.
However, before the liver will completely fails to function, a large number of cells within it need to suffer damage.
Who is at Increased Risk?
There are some factors that increase your likelihood of suffering from this disease. For example, it is possible to pass a type of liver disease onto the next generation. One type of hereditary liver disease is known as Wilson’s disease.
Someone who is suffering from alcoholism is going to be at particularly high risk through their excesses. Some drug use can also lead to liver problems. Pills like statins and anabolic steroids have been linked to liver problems like this.
Overdosing on certain drugs can lead to liver failure as well. This is frequently the case with over-the-counter medications like Tylenol, for example.
Some other medications can also affect the blood vessels that supply the liver. Blood clots can be created in patients taking birth control meds, particularly if they are smokers.
How to Tell if you are Suffering from Liver Disease
Typical symptoms to look out for include vomiting, nausea, jaundice, and upper right abdominal pain. Other symptoms can include:
- Itchy skin
- Dark urine
- Swollen ankles
- Bloody or unusually colored stools
- Lack of appetite
- Easily bruised skin
Diagnosing Liver Problems
A big part of diagnosing an issue with the liver is down to the patient’s history. Though it can sometimes be difficult to get an accurate representation of a patient’s history where alcohol is concerned. It is common for the patient to play down the amount of alcohol they consume.
Liver disease can produce physical problems in many of the body’s systems including the heart, lungs, brain, nervous system, and skin. This can mean that diagnosis of the condition can require a full body examination, as well as blood tests to show liver inflammation.
The tests like blood cell count, blood clotting function, electrolytes and kidney function, CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds, and a liver biopsy can be used to diagnose.
Treatments for Liver Disease
While liver transplants are one well-known treatment of this disease, this is the final resort for patients who are suffering from liver failure.
The treatment options available for liver disease will vary dependent on the type and cause. A patient with hepatitis A might only require staying hydrated while the body’s own immune system fights the infection. Though long-term medical treatment is required for many different versions of the disease.
Patients that are affected by cirrhosis of the liver may need help to metabolize waste materials in the body. They might also need medication to control protein absorption.
With all these conditions, the liver does have a regenerative ability to recover function.
Preventing Damage to Your Liver
There are many things you can do to reduce your risk of liver disease. One of the big things that will reduce your chances of liver damage is controlling your alcohol intake. Though moderate alcohol consumption can actually reduce your risks.
A healthy lifestyle, with a balanced diet, is a way to avoid fatty liver disease. A regular exercise regime and controlling your weight, along with avoiding excess alcohol consumption, is advisable. However, even following this lifestyle advice cannot completely remove the risk of fatty liver disease.
Hepatitis increases your risk of liver disease, and there are things you can do to reduce your chances of contracting that illness. Vaccination is an option for hepatitis A and B.