Liver is the largest organ in our body, located in the upper right part of the abdomen inside the rib cage. It plays several important bodily functions including secretion of bile, production of protein and is involved in blood clotting as well as cholesterol, glucose (sugar), and iron metabolism.
Liver disease is a very broad term used to describe any disturbance in the liver function. This disrupts several critical functions of the body. When the liver becomes diseased or injured, the loss of functions can result in significant damage to the body. Liver diseases are also called as hepatic disease. In certain cases, more than 75% of the liver tissue is affected before the function decrease and liver failure starts to happen.
There are many causes for liver disease. Some of these are mentioned below:
Infection in the liver can lead to inflammation which ultimately reduces liver function. Viral infection can spread through blood, semen, contaminated food and water, or close contact with an infected person. The common types of liver infections are caused by hepatitis viruses, include:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
Immune system problems: Certain immune system abnormalities can affect the liver as the immune cells start attacking certain parts of the body. Some autoimmune liver diseases are:
- Autoimmune hepatitis
- Primary biliary cirrhosis
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis
Genetics: Some liver disease are caused by an abnormal genes inherited from one or both of the parents. This may cause certain types of substances to accumulate in the liver, leading to liver damage. The genetic diseases that can affect the liver include:
- Hyperoxaluria and oxalosis
- Wilson’s disease
- Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency
Cancer such as liver cancer, bile duct cancer, liver adenoma and other abnormalities.
Other common causes of liver disease include chronic alcohol abuse and fat accumulating in the liver or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Effects of alcohol on liver
Alcohol is broken down, metabolized and removed from the body by the liver. When people consume more alcohol than their liver is able to process, the cells of the liver become damaged or destroyed.
According to the guidelines by National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, women can have two or fewer drinks in a day while men can consume three or fewer drinks a day without injury to the liver.
Having more than these limits can result in a buildup of fat and cause inflammation in the liver. This may lead to alcoholic cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis that happens due to alcohol is not reversible even after they stop drinking. Limiting alcohol intake can prevent further damage, and may even help improve symptoms.
Risk factors for liver diseases
There are some factors that may increase the chances of having a liver disease or related problems include:
- Heavy alcohol use
- Injecting drugs
- Sharing needles
- Unprotected sex
- Exposure to toxic chemicals
A variety of symptoms are associated with different types of liver diseases and related problems. As liver is responsible for detoxifying and flushing out waste and metabolizing various nutrients, any kind of disease that affects liver disrupts these functions.
Some symptoms that accompanied by liver pain are:
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Jaundice: yellowness of the skin or the eyes
- Change in urine colour (dark brownish)
- Itchiness on the skin
- Appetite loss
- Swelling in the ankles or legs
The treatment for liver pain is based on what is causing the pain, overall health of the patient and other factors. Once the liver condition is diagnosed, the doctor will prescribe appropriate medicines to manage the condition and lessen the pain.
For viral infections such as Hepatitis B, hepatitis C virus and others, antiviral drugs are used to control the infections and reduce the associated symptoms.
Managing liver cancer
In case of liver cancer, a multidisciplinary team of doctors including oncologists and hepatologists are involved in making an effective treatment plan for each patient.
The type of treatment will depend on the type of cancer, its spread to other organs and stage.
In some cases of liver failure and chronic liver disease, the patient may need a liver transplant. In this procedure, the surgeon replaces the damaged liver of the patient with a whole or part of liver from a donor. The new liver will start performing the required functions in the patients body. This surgery can be a life-saving procedure in several cases where the liver has stopped functioning and the patient is critically ill. India is a popular destination for liver transplant surgery and a number of people from various countries travel for this. One of the prime reasons is the excellent liver transplant success rate in India, other than low cost and highly advanced medical set-up.