As the largest solid organ in a human body, liver carries out a lot of critical functions, such as producing of essential proteins, as well as metabolism of fats and carbohydrates.
Liver even helps eliminate unhealthy biochemical waste products and detoxifying environmental toxins, alcohol and certain drugs.
Some of the crucial functions of the liver include:
The liver function gets hampered when it gets affected by certain disorders which include Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), cirrhosis (scarring), fatty liver, and liver cancer.
Like the different progressive disorders, there are certain tell-tale signs of liver disease which help you know that something is wrong with your liver. Monitoring these symptoms can help you in reaching out for medical help before the problem becomes more complex.
Some of the liver diseases have early signs while others don’t cause any symptoms until it reaches the final stage. No matter what liver disease you are suffering from, you are likely to experience a certain amount of discomfort from head to toe.
Let us here have a look at some of the commonly known symptoms of liver disease:
Swelling in the abdomen can hint at a condition known as the ascites. In this state, the malfunction of your liver tends to cause the significant imbalance of body protein and many other compounds thus leading to fluid build- up in the tissues. The major symptom of ascites is potbelly which often signals at cirrhosis. As the condition grows, the swelling can even be seen in feet, ankles, and hands because the fluid will be drawn to these body parts.
It is one of the most commonly and frequently experienced symptoms that clearly indicates a liver damage or malfunctioning. This feeling of extreme tiredness and fatigue not just happens physically but mentally too. Though fatigue is a commonly associated symptom with liver damage, the condition can even be experienced in various ailments such as heart disease, diabetes, and thyroid. If you have been persistently feeling tired since a long time, you should make it a point to meet your doctor, to see if it is because of some liver disorder.
Protein is very important in the body as it even helps in blood clotting when an injury happens. But if the liver is damaged or affected by some disorder then there won’t be enough protein produced for blood clotting. Apparently, you will tend to bleed and bruise easily. Apart from liver disease, other conditions that can cause the similar symptom of bruising include rheumatoid arthritis.
Another common symptom associated with that of a liver disease is a loss of appetite. In the cases of hepatitis, a liver disease, digestive discomfort is often the first sign to the surface. Along with decreased appetite, you may even experience pain in stomach.
In case of liver damage, nausea becomes a common sight. It is often described as an urge to vomit which causes unpleasantness. Depending upon the damage caused to your liver, nausea can either be for a very short period of time or it can be prolonged. And if it lasts for long then the condition can be very debilitating. A lack of liver’s function is the primary cause behind nausea you experience during a liver damage. Along with nausea, you may even tend to feel lethargic.
As the liver functionality gets hampered and it goes down, waste products from your body don’t get eliminated efficiently, like they used to be. The bile pigment, known as bilirubin, builds up in your bloodstream. This condition is known as jaundice and the very notable signs of this liver induced ailment include yellowing of your skin, eyes and urine. Even the stool in case of jaundice can appear light in color.
Another common symptom as linked with a liver disorder is diarrhea. As the liver is associated with the digestive symptom, diarrhea happens to be a common sign because it is often seen in the cases of disorders related to the digestive system. The liver breaks down and processes everything we eat. So it is quite understandable that when your liver is not functioning properly or has been hampered by a disorder, the digestion will get affected which results in an upset stomach or diarrhea.
Liver diseases can be life-threatening if not treated timely. Being a progressive disease, liver disorders affect the body functioning slowly and without timely medical care, these can transform into chronic liver diseases wherein a liver transplant would be the only solution.
To ensure that your health is not compromised, it is important that you look for the signs and symptoms of the liver disorder and get medical assistance immediately.
Liver Damage Causes
Now that you are aware of the symptoms of liver disease, let us have a look at some of the known causes of acute liver damage:
Excess intake of acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) is said to be the most common cause of acute liver failure. If you have taken an overdose of acetaminophen, then you must speak to your healthcare provider without fail.
Certain medicines as prescribed, like anticonvulsants, antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are also known to subject you to acute liver failure.
Herbal drugs and supplements such as skullcap, kava, ephedra, and pennyroyal are also linked with acute liver failure.
Hepatitis and other viruses:
Hepatitis A, B and E can lead to acute liver failure. There are various other viruses also that can subject you to liver damage and these include herpes simplex virus, Epstein-Barr virus, and cytomegalovirus.
They are known to cause acute liver failure including the venomous wild mushroom type -Amanita phalloides, which is often mistaken for one that is safe to eat. Carbon tetrachloride is another toxin type which is known to cause acute liver failure. It is an industrial chemical that’s found in refrigerants and solvents used for waxes, varnishes and other materials.
Another known cause of liver failure happens to be autoimmune hepatitis – a disease wherein the immune system attacks your liver cells, leading to inflammation and injury.
Veins related diseases in the liver:
Various vascular health disorders such as the Budd-Chiari syndrome can lead to blockages in the veins of your liver thus leading to acute liver failure.
There are certain rare metabolic diseases, like Wilson’s disease and acute fatty liver of pregnancy, which are often known to cause acute liver failure.
It can either develop in the liver itself or spread to liver from any other part of the body and lead to liver failure.
Severe kind of infection (sepsis) and shock is also known to sharply damage the flow of blood to your liver, which can also cause liver failure.
It has also been found in several studies that many acute liver failure cases often have no precise cause.
As your liver gets damaged, it not only causes discomforts but even makes you prone to various other health complications. These health complications include:
Excess fluid in your brain (cerebral edema):
Excessive fluid is known to cause the pressure to build up in your brain. This can hamper your brain’s functioning and cause other complications.
Bleeding and bleeding disorders:
A damaged liver will not be able to contribute in blood clotting functions, subjecting you to bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract; which happens to be a common problem associated with this condition. It can be very severe and difficult to control.
If you have an acute liver failure, it makes you prone to developing infections, especially in your blood as well as the respiratory and urinary tracts.
Many severe and untreated cases of liver failure lead to kidney failure. Often kidney failure because of liver failure will occur if the liver damage has been caused due to acetaminophen overdose. In such cases, both your kidneys can get damaged.
Though you can never really predict as to what disease type will affect you, it is always good to be on the safer side. This is why prevention is really important as it can save you from the extreme complications.
Like other diseases, you can prevent liver damage by taking care of certain things, which include:
Limit alcohol intake:
If you use alcohol, then you should make it a point to minimize the alcohol intake. If you are a woman, then you should stick to one alcoholic drink a day. For men, the amount goes to be two drinks a day. You should steer clear from heavy or high-risk drinking, which counts for a number that’s higher than eight drinks in a week for women and in case of men, it happens to be more than 15 drinks a week.
Don’t practice unsafe behavior:
Drug usage is also known to be the contributory factor in affecting your liver functions. If you have been using illegal intravenous drugs, you should avoid sharing needles that are used to insert drugs. Make safe sex a regular practice and maintain thorough hygiene when going for tattoos or any type of body piercing.
It is advisable to get vaccinated for hepatitis A and hepatitis B, if you feel you’re at higher risk of getting hepatitis or if you’ve been infected with hepatitis virus in the past.
Don’t come in direct contact with other people’s blood and body fluid:
The virus of hepatitis can easily spread through unintended needle sticks or because of not cleaning the blood or body fluid properly.
Take medicines wisely:
Be very cautious with the medicines you take, whether the drugs are prescribed or non prescribed, you should take them only when you need them the most. Also, avoid mixing alcohol and medicine as it can create complications.
Use the aerosol sprays carefully:
When you have to spray insecticides or need to get a paint done in your house, you should ensure that the room is well-ventilated. Moreover, you should wear a mask and avoid any sort of direct contact with the toxic chemicals.
Eat healthy & maintain the right weight:
Obesity is also known to cause fatty liver disease. This is why it is important that you maintain the right weight and switch to healthy eating.
The early you diagnose liver damage, the better treatment options you can avail. A thorough diagnosis even helps in knowing the precise cause as well as the extent of liver damage. This plays a crucial role in deciding on the right treatment plan.
For the diagnosis of liver damage, the doctor will usually look into your family history and conduct a physical examination process. Some of the diagnostic methods as recommended by your doctor would include:
Your doctor will recommend a group of blood tests known as the liver function tests which help diagnose the liver disease. You will even be recommended several other tests that could include precise liver problems or genetic conditions.
Different imaging tests like the ultrasound, CT scan and MRI help in revealing the liver damage.
Taking a tissue sample (biopsy) of the liver will help diagnose the liver disease and figuring out the different signs of liver damage. A liver biopsy is mostly carried out using a long needle that’s inserted through your skin to extract a tissue sample. It is then analyzed in a laboratory and it is then confirmed if you have a liver disease.
Treatment Options for Liver Damage
There are various treatment options available for treating liver damage. However, the treatment module will depend on the diagnosis. Some of the liver problems can easily be treated by making considerable changes to your lifestyle. This includes changing your food preferences, bad habits as smoking and drinking.
For liver problems that can’t be controlled or managed by lifestyle changes, or problems that are very severe; you will be recommended other treatment options as medication or surgery.
Choosing between medication and surgery also depends on your liver problem. If the liver has completely failed, medicines will be of no help and hence a liver transplant would be advised.
Medications to reverse the poisoning: If the acute liver failure has been caused by the overdose of acetaminophen, it can be treated with a medication known as acetylcysteine. This medication can also aid in treating different other causes of acute liver failure. If it is because of mushroom or any other poisoning, it can also be treated with drugs which can help in reversing the effects of the toxin, while also helping to reduce the liver damage.
Liver transplant: This option is always the last resort when all other treatment modes fail to offer the desired results. In a liver transplant, the surgeon will remove your damaged liver and replace it with that of a healthy liver from a donor.
An overview of Liver Transplant
Liver transplantation is a surgical process which is done to remove a damaged or diseased liver and replace it with a healthy liver. Post-transplant, the liver grows its normal size and continues to work effectively.
In most cases of the liver transplant, liver failure is the prime cause of transplant wherein the liver fails to perform its usual functions adequately, thus affecting the overall health. Liver failure can either be chronic or acute.
Chronic liver failure occurs slowly and gradually over the years. The primary causes that result in chronic liver failure are Hepatitis B, long-term alcohol consumption, Hepatitis C, Cirrhosis (a rare liver complication involving loss of live cells and irreversible liver scarring) and Malnutrition.
Acute liver failure or ALF is a fatal syndrome marked by rapid deterioration in liver function that further leads to progressive jaundice, coagulopathy and encephalopathy in the previously normal liver. It can even cause excessive bleeding and increased pressure in the brain. In certain cases, acute liver failure can be reversed with treatment and medication. However, in most situations, a liver transplant is the only way to treat the problem.
Who needs a Liver Transplant?
Liver transplant is the ideal treatment option in cases of live failure which can’t be controlled or treated with other treatment modules. It is even recommended for people who have liver cancer.
In cases of acute liver failure also, a liver transplant is considered to be the most effective treatment option.
Liver transplant surgery is more prevalent in the cases of chronic kidney failure. Chronic liver failure is caused by various conditions. However, the most common cause leading to chronic kidney failure is cirrhosis – defined as the condition marked by irreversible scarring of liver cells and tissues. The scarred tissues gradually destroy the healthy liver tissues, thus impairing the functions of the liver.
Major causes of cirrhosis that leads to liver failure and liver transplant are:
Hepatitis B and C
Alcoholic liver disease
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
Genetic diseases that affect the liver
Diseases affecting the bile ducts
Complications of cirrhosis include:
Recurrent portal hypertensive bleed
Hepatic encephalopathy or coma
Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis
Severe cholestasis with pruritus, hepatic osteodystrophy, cholangitis
Certain cancer types which originate in the liver can also be treated by a liver transplant.