Liver Disease

What is Liver Disease?

The liver is essential in digesting food and ridding your body of toxins. It sits just under your rib cage on the right side of your abdomen.

Liver disease occurs when damage to the liver, resulting in scarring known as cirrhosis, builds up over time and can lead to liver failure.

Symptoms of liver disease include:

  • Skin and eyes that appear yellowish (jaundice)
  • Abdominal pain and swelling
  • Swelling in the legs and ankles
  • Itchy skin
  • Dark urine color
  • Pale stool color, or bloody or tar-colored stool
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bruising easily

Liver disease can be caused by a number of factors.
Some factors include:

  • Infection. The most common types of liver infection are hepatitis viruses, including:
    • Hepatitis A
    • Hepatitis B
    • Hepatitis C
  • Immune system abnormality. The most common examples of autoimmune liver diseases include:
    • Autoimmune hepatitis
    • Primary biliary cirrhosis
    • Primary sclerosing cholangitis
  • Genetics. Some abnormal genes can cause various substances to build up in your liver, resulting in liver damage. Common causes include:
  • Hemochromatosis
  • Hyperoxaluria and oxalosis
  • Wilson’s disease
  • Cancer and other growths, including:
  • Liver cancer
  • Bile duct cancer
  • Liver adenoma
  • Chronic alcohol abuse
  • Fat accumulating in the liver (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease)

Risk factors for Liver Disease include:

  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Injecting drugs using shared needles
  • Tattoos or body piercings
  • Blood transfusion before 1992
  • Exposure to other people’s blood and body fluids
  • Unprotected sex
  • Exposure to certain chemicals or toxins
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • High levels of triglycerides in your blood

Diagnoses for liver disease and its cause include:

  • Blood tests. Liver function tests, a special group of blood tests, can be used to diagnose liver disease. Other blood tests can be done to look for specific liver problems or genetic conditions.
  • Imaging tests, including:
    • CT scan
    • MRI
    • Ultrasound
  • Tissue analysis. The tissue sample is collected during a liver biopsy, most often done using a long needle inserted through the skin to extract a tissue sample. It is then analyzed in a laboratory.

Treatment depends on the cause of the disease. Some liver problems can be treated with lifestyle changes, including:

  • Weight loss
  • Stopping alcohol use

This is typically part of a medical program that includes careful monitoring of liver function. Some liver problems may be treated with medications, and others may require surgery.

If liver disease has advanced to the point of liver failure, you may require a liver transplant.

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