Liver disease, also called hepatic disease, refers to a number of diseases that may affect the liver and its function. The liver plays a role in the production of bile, blood-clotting factors and amino acids, and aids in the processing and storage of iron for red blood cell production. The liver also helps remove waste products from the blood and regulates levels of chemicals in the body.
Some of the diseases that affect the liver include infectious hepatitis, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver failure, Gilbert’s syndrome, cancers, bile flow abnormalities and blood flow abnormalities. Some medications may also cause liver damage, including acetaminophen (Tylenol). Symptoms and treatments for these conditions vary depending on the disease and its causes. It’s important to always consult with your gastroenterologist about any symptoms you may be experiencing.
Symptoms of Liver Disease
Because there are so many different types of liver conditions, symptoms will vary. It is imperative that you do not ignore persistent symptoms and allow them to go unchecked.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain in the upper right part of the abdomen
- Swelling of the abdomen
- Dark urine
- Chronic, itchy skin
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin due to high concentrations of the bile pigment bilirubin).
- Yellowish eyes
- Unexplained fatigue
- Weakness and weight loss
Risk Factors for Liver Disease
Many types of infectious liver disease begin with coming into contact with other people’s bodily fluids. Medical and healthcare professionals are at increased risk for hepatic disease.
- Any profession that exposes you to bodily fluids
- Blood transfusions before 1992
- Body piercings and tattoos
- Heavy alcohol use
- Shared needles from injected drugs
- High level of triglycerides in the blood
- Unprotected sex
- Working with certain chemicals or toxins
Tests to Diagnose Liver Disease
Because the liver has so many functions, the term “liver disease” is very broad. There are hundreds of types of liver conditions but the most common testing methods to diagnose liver problems include the following.
- Imaging– Computed tomography (CT) scans, x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) ultrasound, and magnetic resonance elastography are often used to help diagnose hepatic issues.
- Biopsy– Tissue samples from the liver can indicate disease.
- Blood testing– A simple blood sample can test for liver function, infectious hepatitis or inherited conditions.
- Genetic testing– Members of the same family can be tested for diseases that are genetic in origin.
Treatment for Liver Disease
Liver conditions can sometimes be treated with medications, surgery or even transplant, depending on the condition and severity.
Lifestyle Changes to Treat/Prevent Liver Disease
You can take precautions to prevent liver disease. Although some liver conditions are genetic, there are many conditions that can be prevented.
- Abstain from alcohol or drink in moderation– Women should have no more than one drink per day and men should have no more than two drinks per day.
- Stay current with vaccinations– Talk to your doctor about getting immunized for hepatitis A and B, especially if you are at risk for contracting the hepatitis virus.
- Avoid high-risk behaviors– A high level of risk accompanies the use of illicit drugs, unprotected sex, tattoos and body piercings. Know the risk when you engage in these choices.
- Avoid other people’s blood and body fluid– Hepatitis can be when you come into contact with body fluids or when fluids have not been clean properly. Be aware of how hepatitis is spread. You can even contract the virus by sharing a razor or a toothbrush.
- Eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight– Talk to your doctor about what weight is right for you, and use fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains as the building blocks of your diet.
- Be conscientious about medication– Use medication only when necessary and do not mix alcohol and medication.
With any kind of liver disease, it’s important to request an appointment with your physician to set a healthcare plan.