What you need to know about Liver

Facts & Stats

Liver diseases are extremely common all around the world and a large number of people die from liver conditions every year. In India, around 2% to 3% of all deaths annually are caused by liver diseases which can be described as a large proportion. Both men and women are affected by this condition more or less in an equal manner. Typically men and women above 35 are diagnosed with liver diseases on a more frequent basis, even though plenty of children are also affected by these conditions.

Symptoms

The symptoms of liver disease depend on the type of condition that has affected the patient. Here is a comprehensive list of the liver diseases that can affect a person and make things difficult for him or her. 

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B 
  • Hepatitis C 
  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Primary biliary cholangitis
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis
  • Liver cancer 
  • Bile duct cancer 
  • Liver cell adenoma
  • Hyperoxaluria 
  • Hemochromatosis 
  • Wilson's disease
  • Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency 
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) 
  • Acute liver failure
  • Cirrhosis of liver 
  • Alcoholic Liver Cirrhosis 
  • Liver disease caused by drug overdoses

Some of the common symptoms of liver diseases are mentioned below. 

  • Itchy skin
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Dark urine color
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Abdominal swelling and pain
  • Swelling of the ankles and legs
  • Tendency to bruise rather easily
  • Eyes and skin start appearing yellowish (jaundice)
  • Pale stool color; stool can also be tar-colored or bloody

Causes

Liver diseases can be caused by a number of factors. Let’s have a closer look at them. 

Infection

Sometimes viruses and other parasites may infect the liver which can lead to inflammations that compromise liver function. Viruses causing damage to the liver can be transferred and spread through contaminated water or food, blood or semen or proximity to a patient who has liver infection. Most common liver infections include those that are caused by hepatitis viruses, namely Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. 

Immune system abnormality

Another common cause for liver diseases is autoimmune disorders which can affect the liver. Some of the common types of critical autoimmune liver diseases are mentioned below. 

  • Primary biliary cirrhosis
  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis

Genetics

Abnormal genetic traits that are inherited by a single or both parents may lead to accumulation of substances in the liver which can lead to liver damage. The most common forms of genetic liver diseases are: 

  • Wilson's disease
  • Hemochromatosis
  • Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency
  • Hyperoxaluria and oxalosis

Cancerous conditions 

Some of the most notable cancer conditions include liver cancer, liver adenoma and bile duct cancer. 

Other factors 

Chronic alcohol abuse and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease are other critical factors that can lead to liver disease.  

Risk factors

Some of the other factors leading to liver disease include:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Unprotected sex
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Body piercings and tattoos
  • Injecting drugs with shared needles
  • Exposure to certain toxins or chemicals
  • Blood transfusion carried out before 1992
  • Exposure to body fluids and blood from other people

Diagnosis

There are certain specific blood tests like alkaline phosphatase enzymes, ALT and AST that can help to diagnose abnormalities of the liver. Liver blood tests performed by doctors are collectively known as the liver function tests. The medical experts try to look for signs like prolonged prothrombin time, elevated bilirubin and low albumin to understand the specific nature of the problem. There are also other types of blood tests which offer more specific diagnosis for particular forms of liver diseases. Antibody tests are used for diagnosing different viral hepatitis conditions. Immunological tests are prescribed for chronic autoimmune hepatitis and primary biliary cirrhosis. There are also certain special tests which are carried out for diagnosing other liver conditions. For instance, iron-related tests can help to detect hemochromatosis, copper-related tests are deemed perfect for Wilson's disease and tumor markers can be used for liver cancer.

Liver biopsy is also an important diagnostic measure that can accurately help in proper diagnosis of the liver condition. Even though it is not always carried out, it is known to be highly effective. Typically, a sample of the affected liver tissue is collected which is then studied under special conditions.

Treatment

The treatment of liver conditions may include everything from medications and surgeries to dietary and lifestyle changes. The exact method of treatment is going to depend on the type of liver disease that has affected an individual. In many cases, critical surgeries may be required to resolve the disorder. The prognosis of the treatment depends greatly on the early detection of the condition. The doctors are also going to consider the general health conditions of a patient while choosing the treatment methods for a patient.