The liver is an internal organ located under the right rib cage. It is responsible for many complex functions in the human body, among which the most important are elimination of the toxic substances from the body, digestion of the food and production of the vitamin K. The liver is a vital organ that supports almost every other organ in the human body.
Diseases of the liver can be inherited or caused by various factors. These diseases that affect the liver will eventually lead to liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver). Liver cirrhosis over the time will lead to liver failure. Liver failure is a life threatening condition.
Some people are at a greater risk from suffering from various liver diseases compared to others. Risk factors for liver diseases include:
• Excessive consumption of alcohol for a long period of time
• Injecting drugs and sharing the needles with others
• Unprotected sexual intercourse
• High levels of cholesterol and triglyceride in the blood
• Exposure to certain toxins and chemicals, etc.
Pain is one of the symptoms in cases when various diseases affect the liver. However, liver pain is often confused with abdominal pain, kidney pain or back pain. This often leads to misdiagnosis of liver diseases. It is very important to know that liver pain is located on the right side of the abdomen, under the right rib cage. It is usually felt as a dull pain, but it can also be often accompanied by back pain or shoulder pain. Other signs and symptoms of liver diseases, except liver pain include:
• Abdominal pain
• Swelling of the legs and ankles
• Nausea and vomiting
• Loss of appetite
• Chronic fatigue
• Pale stool, bloody stool or tar-colored stool
• Dark urine
• Itchy skin, etc.
Liver diseases have many causes.
Alcoholic liver disease – it is one of the common causes that affects the liver. It is often known as liver cirrhosis and it results from excessive intake of alcohol over a long period of time. Signs and symptoms of alcoholic liver disease include: liver pain, jaundice, nausea, loss of appetite, weight gain, abdominal tenderness, abdominal pain, excessive thirst, black or bloody stools, confusion, concentration difficulties, etc. Treatment in this case is getting help stopping the abuse with alcohol. In more severe cases, when the liver tissue is totally destroyed the only treatment option is liver transplant.
Infections – viruses and parasites can affect the humans liver, causing inflammation of the liver and a gradual reduction of its function. The most common types of viruses that affect the liver are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. One person is infected with these viruses through direct contact with the infected person, through blood or semen and contaminated food or water. Treatment depends on the stage of the hepatitis and antivirals are usually recommended.
Autoimmune disorders – are diseases in which your own immune system attacks parts of your body, among which also the liver. Some of the autoimmune liver diseases include: autoimmune hepatitis, primary sclerosing cholangitis, etc.
Cancer – like in any other organ, even in the liver various types of cancer can develop. Primary liver cancer occurs in cases when the liver cells grow more than normally. Unfortunately, primary liver cancer is diagnosed only in its advanced stages. Other types of cancers that affect the liver are metastasis from cancers located in other body parts, liver adenoma, bile duct cancer, etc. Treatment in these cases includes chemotherapy, radiofrequency ablation, radiation therapy, cryotherapy and liver transplant.
Genetics – some people are predisposed to suffer from various liver diseases due to a gene inheritance from one or both parents. Some of the genetic liver diseases include: Wilson’s disease, Hemochromatosis, etc.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease – develops in cases when the fat in the liver exceeds 10%. However, it is normal to have some fat in the liver. The fatty liver disease is more common among people who are obese, who suffer from diabetes, pre-diabetes, high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. Treatment depends from the cause of the fatty liver disease. Usually leading a healthy life with daily physical activity and a balanced diet with plenty vegetables and fruits is recommended. In cases of being overweight a reduction of the weight is necessary. In progressed cases of the disease liver transplant is the only treatment option.
Liver cysts – are sacs that are filled with fluid and that affect the liver tissue. It has been estimated that about 5% of people in the world have liver cysts. These cysts are often diagnosed by chance during an examination for some other cause. Liver cysts are asymptomatic in most of the cases without affecting the function of the liver. However, when they increase in size, they can push against other organs or even rupture causing signs and symptoms like abdominal pain, a feeling of fullness, bloating, etc. The treatment depends from the cause of the liver cysts. In some cases a surgical removal of these cysts is necessary.
Liver fibrosis – is characterized by formation of fibrous tissue and fibroids in the liver tissue. It is the last stage of alcohol liver disease. Liver fibrosis gradually affects the normal function of the liver causing different signs and symptoms like: abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, jaundice, spider like blood vessels beneath the skin, dark colored urine, swelling of the feet and ankles, etc.
Liver diseases, no matter what their cause is, if left untreated will gradually progress and lead to liver failure. Keep in mind that liver failure is a life threatening condition and liver transplant is the only treatment option.
How are liver diseases diagnosed?
Knowing the real cause of the liver disease is very important in order to determine the necessary treatment. Diagnosing usually involves the following tests and examinations:
- Blood tests – specific test are performed through the blood which can help us diagnose liver diseases. Among these tests the most known and routinely performed are the liver function tests.
- Imaging tests – Ultrasound of the liver, CT-scan and even MRI can help us diagnose liver diseases.
- Biopsy of the liver tissue – a liver tissue analysis may help us diagnose liver diseases.
Can we prevent liver diseases?
Liver diseases in most of the cases can be prevented by leading a healthy and active life. One of the most important things is avoiding the excessive consumption of alcohol. Abusive consumption of alcohol is considered in cases when we consume more than three drinks a day or when we consume more than seven drinks during the week, for both men and women. Leading a healthy life with a healthy diet and daily physical activity also helps us reduce the risk of suffering from liver diseases. Maintain a healthy weight and get rid of the extra pounds as soon as you can if you are overweight. Vaccination is also recommended against hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Avoid risky behavior like drug consummation and especially drug injection. Do not share the needles. Avoid changing sexual partners often and avoid having unprotected sexual intercourse. Avoid contact with other people’s blood and body fluids. Use medications as prescribed by your health care provider, at the exact dose and in the exact prescribed way. Do not abuse with various medications.