The liver is primarily essential for digesting food and ridding your body of toxic substances. Being the largest internal organ of the body, the main functions of the liver are to :
- metabolize most of the nutrients that are absorbed by the intestine
- store nutrients
- produce proteins
- Detoxify the blood by discarding medications, alcohol, and potentially harmful chemicals from the bloodstream and treating them chemically so they can be excreted by digestive or urinary systems
Types of Liver Diseases
The various types of liver diseases are largely classified according to the cause of the specific problem. Most of these diseases involve inflammation of the liver, termed clinically as hepatitis –
This is one of the most commonly occurring liver diseases where the liver becomes inflamed due to a viral infection. These viruses are of different strains and referred to as A, B, C, D and E. For instance, hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus which is often contracted from contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B virus is transmitted through sexual contact and blood products.
Parasites can infest the liver and damage it over time. This may be caused by flatworms, such as blood flukes or liver flukes. Such worms are often acquired from sheep or cattle and sometimes from other organisms like snails. The parasite enters the human body by consuming water or food that is contaminated with the immature worm or its eggs.
Alcoholic and Toxic Hepatitis
Alcoholic hepatitis is where the liver becomes inflamed and damaged due to excessive alcohol consumption usually over a long period of time. Toxic hepatitis is where the liver becomes inflamed and damaged from exposure to a number of different chemicals, and not only alcohol. These may include drugs -prescription and over-the-counter, health supplements and industrial chemicals such as cleaning solvents etc.
Fatty Liver Disease
The fatty liver disease is where globules of fat accumulate in the liver. Some fat in the liver is normal but in fatty liver disease, there is an excess. There are two types of fatty liver disease – alcoholic and non-alcoholic. As the names suggest, the alcoholic fatty liver disease is associated with alcohol abuse. The non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is not due to alcohol or substance abuse but usually seen as being overweight or obese.
Autoimmune Liver Disease
Autoimmune hepatitis is where the liver is inflamed as a result of the immune system attacking it. This abnormality in the immune system arises for several reasons, some of which are unknown. It may be associated with certain genes. Eventually, the liver is damaged by this abnormal immune activity.
Genetic Liver Problems
Certain liver diseases may be due to genetic factors and therefore inherited. It may tend to occur in families and includes conditions such as hemochromatosis, hyperoxaluria and Wilson’s disease. These type of liver diseases mainly cause a buildup of substances within the liver.
A number of different abnormal growths can affect the liver. Some of these growths may be cancerous while others are benign. Hepatocellular carcinoma is also known as liver cancer and arises from the liver cells. A liver adenoma is a benign tumor, as is a liver abscess where pus accumulates within the liver tissue. Bile duct cancer can also spread to the liver tissue or affect the liver from functioning normally.
Cirrhosis is an end-stage of liver disease where there is a significant destruction of liver tissue and scarring within the liver. It can occur for a number of different reasons, such as with alcoholic hepatitis or other forms of severe or prolonged liver disease. Cirrhosis is irreversible and will eventually lead to death.
Signs of Liver Problems
Signs and symptoms of liver disease include:
- Skin and eyes appear yellowish (jaundice)
- Itchy skin
- Dark urine color
- Pale stool color, or bloody or tar-colored stool
- Chronic fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Tendency to bruise easily
- Nausea and vomiting
- Swelling and fluid accumulation in the abdomen
To prevent liver disease:
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
- Use a condom during sex.
- Get vaccinated.
- Use medications wisely. Take prescription and nonprescription drugs only when needed and only in recommended doses
- 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. Make sure the room is ventilated, and wear a mask when spraying insecticides, fungicides, paint and other toxic chemicals.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity can cause nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.