HYDERABAD: Liver disease (hepatic disease) causes impairment of liver function and it covers all the potential conditions that affect liver functions including infections, the medicines you take, the fluids you drink and the type of food you eat. Thus a variety of liver diseases contribute to the damage caused to the liver rather silently paying the way to late-stage liver disease and liver failure. In addition, Liver cirrhosis and hepatitis B infection are the leading cause of chronic liver disease, liver cancer, and liver failure– which may develop at any stage during the progression of liver disease. But timely medical help could help you to prevent the progression of liver disease; however, it becomes quite difficult to keep a track of liver’s health or keep liver in good shape unless you know what does taking care of liver means in real terms – Let us find out…
Causes of liver disease
Diabetes and excess fat in your blood may lead to Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) – a common condition in overweight & obese people. Alcohol in excess causes cirrhosis of the liver. Hepatitis B and C are very infectious and deadly as they can cause liver failure. Early detection of hepatitis (hepatitis B and C) is very important because you can have it for years without being aware of it. Untreated hepatitis may lead to liver cirrhosis, cancer and liver failure. The pain killers like acetaminophen and excess dosage of paracetamol taken over time or at once can be toxic to your liver. Some chemicals in deo-sprays, aerosol-based products, insecticides, pesticides, antibiotics, cleaning products, disinfectants, chemical additives in paints, tobacco-based products including cigarettes contain toxins that are capable of damaging liver cells.
Liver disease progresses over a period of time
Though the cause for your liver disease may vary, the damage caused to your liver progresses in a similar way. Furthermore, progression of liver disease is a silent affair. Early stages of liver disease may be completely asymptomatic.
Inflammation of the liver continues over a period of time – during this time your liver becomes enlarged & inflamed – but the inflamed liver may not cause any discomfort at all; at this stage, if your liver disease is diagnosed & treated, it is possible to protect the future damage.
Gradually the inflamed liver begins to scar and over a period of time excess scar tissue grows replacing the healthy liver tissue (fibrosis) – as more and more scar tissue builds up your liver may not work properly. Through proper diagnosis & treatment your liver health can be improved.
You get liver cirrhosis due to hepatitis B & C infections, alcohol abuse, fatty liver disease associated with obesity & diabetes; viral infections; blockage of the bile duct; heart failure; accumulation of toxic metals: copper & iron in the liver due to genetic diseases; certain medications, inherited disease like cystic fibrosis, prolonged exposure to environmental toxins, parasitic infections and autoimmune diseases. If underlying condition is left untreated, it gradually leads to serious scarring that ultimately results in liver cirrhosis. Cirrhosis while progressing gradually leads to jaundice, Ascites and causes complications in your brain. Long standing cirrhosis may lead to liver cancer. Timely diagnosis and treatment at this stage may prevent the healthy liver tissues that are left from further deterioration – which means the damage can be stopped or slowed down.
The slow progression of liver disease over a period of time (possibly over years) ultimately leads to chronic liver failure. Cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure are serious conditions that can endanger your life as the treatment options are very limited. However, if liver disease is identified early – in the early stages, it can be treated successfully and your liver gets the chance to heal and recover.
Symptoms of liver disease
- Weight loss
- Fatigue & Weakness
- Nausea n Vomiting
- Jaundice n Fluid retention (edema) and swelling in the ankles, legs, and abdomen (often an early sign)
Vomiting of blood & black stools
Complications of liver disease
- Coagulopathy - bleeding disorders n Bacterial Infections
- Veins in the stomach, intestines and esophagus enlarge and bleed easily
- Kidney Failure n Osteoporosis
- Decreased Immunity (Increased rate of infection)
Increased pressure in the blood vessels of the liver (portal hypertension)
Ascites – fluid in the abdomen
Mental confusion, change in the level of consciousness, or coma (hepatic encephalopathy)
Your physician will look for swollen abdomen due to the accumulation of fluid and to detect enlarged spleen or liver; He/she will also look for red spider-like blood vessels on the skin and yellow eyes or skin (Jaundice) and recommend the following base line tests:
- Complete Blood Count
- Prothrombin time
- Liver function test
- Viral markers n USG Abdomen
Other tests to check for liver damage include:
- Computed tomography (CT) of the abdomen n Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the abdomen
- Endoscopy to check for abnormal veins in the esophagus or stomach
- You will also need a liver biopsy to confirm the diagnosis in some cases.
Seek emergency medical help if you have:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling n High fever
- Shortness of breath
- Vomiting more than once a day
- Rectal bleeding, vomiting blood or blood in urine n Yellowing of skin or eyes (jaundice)
To prevent cirrhosis of the liver:
- Avoid synthetic chemicals
- Check hepatitis B, C infections and undergo timely treatment
- Avoid unprotected sex
- Avoid excess, regular alcohol consumption n Maintain healthy weight
- Adopt personal hygiene
- Eat healthy diet
- Do exercise regularly
- Don’t share toothbrushes, blades and needles
- Get your vaccination done for Hepatitis B and A, pneumonia and influenza
Your healthy liver possesses the ability to compensate the damage. Therefore, on time approach to a gastroenterologist or hepatologist not only minimises the risks of liver disease
Once liver Cirrhosis reaches to an advanced stage, the prognosis becomes very poor. Only 50% patients will survive beyond 2 years. Liver transplantation is the only definite treatment available for complete cure. One should see a hepatologist for assessment to see whether they withstand the surgery and at what stage it should be done. If blood group matches, family members can donate a part of their liver.