Liver Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Risks, Complications, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention and Outlook

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Human Body Liver

1Overview

The liver is considered the largest organ of the human body. It is located in the belly, particularly on the upper right side of the abdominal cavity right of the stomach. An average adult liver can weigh around three pounds. It is reddish brown in color and has a rubbery texture. The liver is one the vital organs protected by the rib cage.

When at work, the liver operates alongside the gall bladder, the pancreas, and intestines. These organs are involved in the digestive activity of the human body. They make up the digestive system, which is responsible for the digestion, absorption, and processing of food.

The main function of the liver includes the detoxification of chemicals and the metabolism of drugs including cholesterol, glucose, and iron. It is responsible for the filtering of the blood from the digestive tract to be distributed to other parts of the body. It is also vital in the production of protein, which is important in other activities in the body including blood clotting.

The onset of a liver disease, also known as hepatic disease, can occur when normal liver functions are disturbed. If a liver disease does ensue, it means 75% of liver tissue has depleted or failed to function.

Liver conditions include hepatitis, cirrhosis, liver failure, and gall stones. This article will look closely at the general distinction of a liver disease. Note that signs and possible treatments may differ according to the gravity and case of a liver disease.

2Symptoms

Appearance or activity of different parts of the body can help in signaling the possible occurrence of a liver disease. Some of the most common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain (upper right side), weakness or fatigue, and weight loss.

Other symptoms are:

Discoloration of stool/darkening of urine

This is one of the simple methods of detecting a possible liver problem. These symptoms are observed in people with viral hepatitis.

Yellowing of the skin (jaundice)

The yellowing of the eyes and skin can happen when there is an accumulation of bilirubin, which is the waste product resulted from the normal breakdown of hemoglobin.

Fever

When a gall bladder is infected, the patient may experience fever.

Bruising

A patient with cirrhosis of the liver may have easy bruising of the skin due to a decrease in blood clotting.

Itching

This may occur due to deposits of bile salts in the skin.

Imbalanced sex hormones

Some may observe changes in the body, such as the development of breasts in men due to a rise in estradiol.

Erectile Dysfunction Male patients may observe their sex drive has been getting poor as well as a change in the size of their testicles as a result of a decrease in sex hormones.

Deteriorating brain function

The liver is responsible for the creation of proteins that are important for blood clotting, which is vital to maintaining normal bodily functions including brain activity.

Fluid buildup (ascites) and a decline in muscle mass – This is also due to a decrease in protein production.

Lethargy and confusion

Patients may experience these as a result of rising levels of ammonia in the bloodstream.

Swollen veins

Patients with cirrhosis usually experience this. They are the patients who are at risk of having swollen veins as a result of pressure in the portal vein.

Bleeding

This could come as a result of swollen veins.

3Causes

Alcohol abuse

Frequent high consumption of alcoholic beverages is one of the common causes of liver damage.

Accumulation of fat in the liver

A person can also develop a liver disease when he is consuming fatty foods in excessive amounts.

Infection

Liver disease can come as a result of an infection with the presence of parasites and viruses in the organ. Uninfected people may be affected when these liver-damaging viruses spread through close contact with an infected person, especially when bodily fluids are shared. They can also spread through contaminated food and beverage.

Medication

Reckless consumption of drugs can cause liver damage. Note that consulting a healthcare professional is the better option than simply reviewing the dosing guidelines of medication, especially those that could be acquired over the counter. The condition of the body differs between two people, especially if one of them is taking other prescription drugs. Being critical when it comes to dosing is crucial to make sure the amount being taken is safe.

Genetics

The liver condition can be developed through passing an abnormal gene, which can cause liver damage, by a parent to a child.

4Risk Factors

Alcohol consumption

High and frequent consumption of alcohol can leave the liver vulnerable. Some liver diseases are due to this lifestyle choice which can be prevented by the patient.

Exchange of body fluids

Some liver diseases can be contracted by having unprotected sex, sharing unsterilized injections with another person, or using unsterilised equipment for tattooing.

Exposure to chemicals

Some chemicals may irritate liver cells, resulting in inflammation in the liver, the reduction of bile flow, or the buildup of triglycerides. There are some chemicals also that can trigger cancer cells in the liver.

Medication

Some drugs can be irritable to the blood vessels in the liver and cause the organ to narrow or form blood clots. There are some as well that, when consumed in high amounts, can cause liver failure.

Heredity

Genetics can also be a risk factor for the liver disease. Some diseases may be passed down by ancestors to their offspring including liver disease.

5Complications

The often cause of complications to occur with this disease is an infection. Among the common complications is called spontaneous peritonitis wherein one of the access lines is infected. Other complications can be pneumonia, opportunistic infection, cerebral edema, hemorrhage, sepsis, respiratory failure, and kidney failure.

6Diagnosis

For a healthcare expert to assure there is an occurrence of a liver disease, they perform one or two of the following tests:

Laboratory Tests

Complete blood examination

This is usually the initial test that a patient would be asked to undergo for them to be able to tell the activity of the components of the liver including aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT), and alkaline phosphatase (ALP). These are enzymes found in the liver. In liver diseases, these enzymes are often in high levels, which could signal the liver may be inflamed or injured.

Other things that blood examinations could detect includes the rise in levels of bilirubin and ammonia in the bloodstream and whether there are healthy levels of protein and albumin in the blood. Blood tests can also detect autoantibodies, which are often found in patients with autoimmune hepatitis. Also, the tests will be able to assess the levels of urea, creatinine, and electrolytes in the blood as well as blood urea nitrogen.

A complete blood count can disclose whether the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are within the healthy range. In advanced liver diseases, these levels may be reduced.

Tests to assess ascitic fluid

The buildup of fluid in the abdomen is called ascites. Ascitic fluid will be examined by health professionals to detect the possible occurrence of cancer cells.

Biopsies

A liver biopsy can be obtained by taking a specimen from the organ usually during surgery or by means of using the CT scan or USG. The specimen will be scrutinized in terms of the presence or cancer cells and other activities that may signal the occurrence of a liver condition.

Radiological Assessments

Liver diseases can be detected with the use of imaging and radiological tests such as:

Ultrasonogram (USG)

The use of USG to assess the activity in the abdomen can help diagnose health conditions including that of the liver and the detection of gall stones. USG uses sound waves and is considered as an inexpensive and noninvasive method for diagnosing conditions. When USG is used with Doppler, it can assess the flow of blood in the portal venous system.

Computed Axial Tomographical (CT) scan

This can be used to assess liver tissues and diagnose conditions.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

It provides a clear image of liver tissues, so health professionals can analyze the condition of an organ.

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

This procedure involves the use of an endoscope, which helps health experts see a real-time vision of the state of an organ. They will be able to see the digestive tract as well as the bile and pancreatic ducts.

7Treatment

A patient may be given a treatment plan different from another patient as liver diseases are approached differently. For example, the often immediate action for patients with gall stones is the removal of the gall bladder, while patients with cirrhosis of the liver may be prescribed medication to control the protein levels in their bloodstream. Patients with hepatitis A would require supportive care, while patients with high amounts of ascitic fluid will need to have the excessive fluids removed occasionally. Other liver conditions may require long-term care.

Patients who suffer from liver failure may be offered liver transplantation as an option. Some patients may also be provided a low-sodium diet as well as water pills so they can reduce water retention, while some may need to undergo surgery to reduce the risk of bleeding and resolve portal hypertension.

A fairly new treatment is liver dialysis. It involves the use of a machine which takes the role of the liver in the detoxification of chemicals in the body. This is often used by people who suffer from liver failure or have had liver transplant surgery. However, the machine can only support a patient for a few years.

8Prevention

  • A person will be able to decrease his chances of developing alcohol-related liver diseases by consuming alcohol in moderation.
  • Take vaccinations against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.
  • Limit exposure to another individual’s bodily fluids.
  • Undergo screening for Hepatitis C.
  • Lead a healthy lifestyle. People who follow a healthy, well-balanced diet, exercise regularly and avoid alcoholic beverages significantly decrease their risk of developing liver diseases.

9Outlook

The prognosis will depend on the case of a patient. For example, if he was diagnosed with an alcohol-related liver disease, there is a good outlook for him for as long as he keeps away from drinking alcoholic beverages. On the other hand, if he continues to consume alcohol in high amounts, he increases his risk of developing cirrhosis. For those who suffer from cirrhosis of the liver, their development will depend highly on their capability to remove the cause of their disease. They may be offered liver transplantation, but liver transplants are only available to a limited number of patients.