The liver is a vital internal organ about the size of a football and is located just under the rib cage, on the right side. It plays a major role in metabolism and numerous other bodily functions including detoxification, decomposition of red blood cells, glycogen storage, hormone production, and plasma protein synthesis. The liver is specialized in regulating a wide variety of high volume biochemical reactions that are necessary for normal vital functions.
Liver problems may be genetic, or is response to viruses and chemicals. Some of these problems are temporary, while others last a long time and can lead to death.
Common Liver Diseases
Liver diseases all involve malfunction of the liver, and there are more than 100 different diagnoses for liver problems. Early stages of liver disease may not have any symptoms and sometimes can be passed off as just a “bug” or the flu. Once the disease progresses, certain characteristic symptoms begin to manifest. Some of these symptoms include yellowness of the skin and eyes and brownish urine. As the disease progresses, patients may begin to have a distended abdomen, esophageal bleeding, vomiting, and pass black stools.
Some of the most common liver diseases include:
- Acute or chronic liver failure
- Alcoholic hepatitis
- Hepatitis A, B, C, D, or E
- Liver cancer
- Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Liver problems can be caused by viruses and chemicals or they can be inherited. Some of these liver problems are temporary and may go away on their own, but most liver problems can last for a long time and can lead to serious complications.
- Viruses - Some of the viruses that can cause liver disorders are hepatitis A, B, and C
- Chemicals - Certain drugs, poisons, and alcohol can all create problems with the liver that can have long term consequences
- Illnesses - Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin, can be a sign of liver disease. Scarring of the liver called cirrhosis, as well as cancer can both have major adverse effects on the liver. An inherited disease that affects the liver is called hemochromatosis
Liver Disease Symptoms
Some signs and symptoms of liver disease are:
- Jaundice: a yellow tone to the skin and whites of the eyes
- Ascites – fluid accumulation in the abdomen causing distention, causing pain
- Varices – also called varicose veins, they are abnormally distended and lengthened
- Itchy skin – the symptom doesn’t seem to go away
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine – dark brown or yellow
- Discolored stool – pale at first, then as the disease progresses, it may turn tar-colored and bloody
- Chronic fatigue
- Loss of appetite
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms make sure you schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
Liver Disease Risk Factors
Some of the biggest factors and contributors that can increase your risk of liver disorders are:
- Receiving a blood transfusion before 1992
- Body piercings with unsterile equipment
- Certain prescription medications
- Sharing needles for injected drugs
- Tattoos made with unsterile equipment
- Job-related chemical/toxin exposure
- Unsanitary exposure to others’ blood and body fluids
- Unprotected sex
- Heavy alcohol use
- High levels of triglycerides in your blood
Liver Disease Diagnosis
Blood Tests - Blood tests will analyze the enzymes that are normally in liver tissue, metabolites or products. Certain blood tests look for specific liver problems or conditions, so multiple blood examinations may be required.
Imaging Tests - Computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound are all procedures that can create an image of your liver to help doctors discover any disorders you may have.
Liver Samples - This procedure removes a small tissue sample from your liver which may help doctors find out what diseases may be present.
Liver Disease Treatments
Depending on the diagnosis, your doctor will recommend the right choice of treatment for you. Some liver problems can be treated with medication while others may require surgery. A liver transplant might also be required if the liver is failing.
Alternative medicine may also be useful, but certain herbal supplements may actually cause more harm than good. To protect your limited liver function, make sure to speak to your doctor before considering taking any herbal supplements.
Liver Disease Prevention
Some preventative measures that can be taken for liver disease are:
- Limit or avoid alcohol consumption – no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. Never mix medications with alcohol.
- Avoiding intravenous drugs, unprotected sex and unclean tattoo or piercing establishments. If you use illicit drugs, never share needles and make sure to seek help. If you are sexually active with multiple partners, always use condoms and be checked regularly for sexually-transmitted diseases. If you choose to have body piercings or tattoos, make sure the establishment you choose is up to current safety protocol (ask to see certification) and examine the shop’s cleanliness.
- Be current on your vaccinations. If you are at higher risk for hepatitis or if you’ve already been exposed to the virus, ask your doctor for a hepatitis B vaccine. A vaccine is sometimes available for hepatitis A, as well.
- Avoid contact with the blood or body fluids of others. Hepatitis commonly spreads with accidental needle sticks or improper cleanup of bloody and body fluids.
If you think you may have a form of liver disease, West Medical is here to help diagnose your case. We're dedicated to providing the best service to all of our patients. To learn more about liver disorders, as well as treatment options and costs, please contact our West Medical offices at (855) 690-0565, and our helpful medical staff will answer any questions you may have.
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