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Disease & Condition

Liver Disease

The liver is an organ about the size of a football that sits just under your rib cage on the right side of your abdomen. The liver is essential for digesting food and ridding your body of toxic substances.

Symptoms

Signs and 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
  • Tendency to bruise easily

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any persistent signs or symptoms that worry you. Seek immediate medical attention if you have abdominal pain that is so severe that you can’t stay still.

Causes

Liver disease has many causes.

Infection

Parasites and viruses can infect the liver, causing inflammation and that reduces liver function. The viruses that cause liver damage can be spread through blood or semen, contaminated food or water, or close contact with a person who is infected. The most common types of liver infection are hepatitis viruses, including:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C

Immune system abnormality

Diseases in which your immune system attacks certain parts of your body (autoimmune) can affect your liver. Examples of autoimmune liver diseases include:

  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis

Genetics

An abnormal gene inherited from one or both of your parents can cause various substances to build up in your liver, resulting in liver damage. Genetic liver diseases include:

  • Hemochromatosis
  • Hyperoxaluria and oxalosis
  • Wilson’s disease

Cancer and other growths

Examples include:

  • Liver cancer
  • Bile duct cancer
  • Liver adenoma

Other

Additional, common causes of liver disease include:

  • Chronic alcohol abuse
  • Fat accumulating in the liver (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease)

Risk factors

Factors that may increase your risk of liver disease include:

  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Injecting drugs using shared needles
  • Tattoos or body piercings
  • Blood transfusion before screening
  • 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

Complications

Complications of liver disease vary, depending on the cause of your liver problems. Untreated liver disease may progress to liver failure, a life-threatening condition

Tests and diagnosis

Finding the cause and extent of liver damage is important in guiding treatment.

Your doctor is likely to start with a health history and thorough physical examination. Your doctor may then recommend:

  • Blood tests.
  • Imaging tests. CT scan, MRI and ultrasound can show liver damage.
  • Tissue analysis.(Liver biopsy)

Treatments and drugs

Treatment for liver disease depends on your diagnosis. Some liver problems can be treated with lifestyle modifications, such as stopping alcohol use or losing weight, typically as part of a medical program that includes careful monitoring of liver function. Other liver problems may be treated with medications or may require surgery.

Treatment for liver disease that causes liver failure may ultimately require a liver transplant

Prevention

To prevent liver disease:

  • Drink alcohol in moderation.
  • Avoid risky behavior. Get help if you use illicit intravenous drugs, and don’t share needles used to inject drugs. Use a condom during sex. If you choose to have tattoos or body piercings, be picky about cleanliness and safety when selecting a shop.
  • Get vaccinated.
  • Use medications wisely.
  • Avoid contact with other people’s blood and body fluids. Hepatitis viruses can be spread by accidental needle sticks or improper cleanup of blood or body fluids.
  • Take care with aerosol sprays.
  • Protect your skin. When using insecticides and other toxic chemicals, wear gloves, long sleeves, a hat and a mask.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity can cause nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

 

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