Liver Damage: What all should we know?
Liver damage happens for many reasons including alcohol, drugs, viruses, chemicals, toxins, and bacteria. Sometimes it happens accidentally due to an injury or surgery. Other times it happens intentionally by taking harmful substances. Regardless of the cause, liver damage usually makes you feel sicker and weaker. Liver disease is a condition where the liver becomes damaged or diseased. Symptoms of liver diseases vary depending on the type of liver damage.
The primary cause of liver damage is alcohol abuse. Alcoholic beverages contain a chemical called acetaldehyde, which damages the cells of the liver. Acetaldehyde causes inflammation and scarring of the liver, leading to cirrhosis. Other substances that damage the liver include medications, toxins, heavy metals such as lead, and some foods. There are several different types of liver disease, and they vary depending on what type of liver damage you have.
Types of liver diseases
- Hepatitis is a disease of the liver in which cells lining the inner surface of the organ are damaged. The damage may cause inflammation and scarring. There are many types of hepatitis, including viral hepatitis B and C, alcoholic hepatitis, autoimmune hepatitis, drug-induced hepatitis, and hemochromatosis.
- Cirrhosis is a condition in which the normal structure of the liver becomes distorted due to fibrosis. Fibrosis is the formation of excess scar tissue in an organ. This scar tissue replaces healthy tissue and causes the organ to lose its function. Liver cirrhosis usually develops over years and is caused by chronic infection from viruses, alcohol abuse, or excessive consumption of drugs.
- Cancer of the liver is a malignant tumor that begins in the liver. Globally, it ranks fifth in terms of cancer death. The most common type of liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma, which accounts for approximately 75 percent of cases. Other types include cholangiocarcinoma, hepatoblastoma, and angiosarcoma.
Liver Damage: What are the various Risks of liver disease?
The risk factors for liver disease depend upon the specific type of liver damage you experience. For example, if you drink alcohol frequently, then you run the risk of developing alcoholic liver damage. On the other hand, if you take certain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), then you will likely develop drug-induced liver damage. Even being exposed to toxins or environmental pollutants could cause liver damage if you are genetically susceptible.
What causes different types of liver damage?
Alcoholism is the leading cause of cirrhosis, primary biliary cirrhosis, hepatic fibrosis, and alcoholic hepatitis. It occurs due to chronic consumption of alcohol that results in damage to the liver. This leads to scarring of the liver cells and eventually cirrhosis. Cirrhosis may lead to liver failure and death.
2. Hepatitis B & C
Hepatitis B and C are caused by viruses that attack the liver and cause inflammation. Liver inflammation can lead to scarring and scar formation, scarring of blood vessels, and cirrhosis. Both hepatitis B and C primarily affect men.
3. Autoimmune Disease
When the body attacks healthy cells, autoimmunity occurs. They destroy normal functioning liver cells. Several autoimmune disorders can cause this type of injury.
4. Fatty Liver Disease
An accumulation of fat in the liver leads to fatty liver disease. This can happen from excessive consumption of alcohol, obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Liver enzymes get into the bloodstream causing pain in the abdomen, nausea, vomiting, jaundice, dark urine, fatigue, weight loss, and dark stools.
What are the symptoms of liver disease?
Yellowing of skin and eyes:
Yellowing of the skin and eyes is a sign of jaundice. This condition is caused due to accumulation of bilirubin in the bloodstream. Bilirubin is a pigment produced by the body when red blood cells break down. Jaundice occurs when too much bilirubin accumulates in the bloodstream causing yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.
Dark-colored urine is a symptom of liver disease. It indicates that the liver is unable to remove toxins from the body effectively. A dark color usually means that the bile ducts are blocked. Bile is a fluid secreted by the liver that helps in the digestion of fats. When the bile ducts become clogged, they cannot release enough bile into the intestines. As a result, the intestine absorbs fat instead of breaking it down.
Vomiting is a common symptom of liver disease. People suffering from this condition often vomit after eating. Sometimes vomiting may occur without any reason.
Abdominal pain is another common symptom of liver disease, especially among those who have cirrhosis. Pain in the abdomen may be mild or severe. Mild abdominal pain may be felt only at times of stress. Patients can experience severe abdominal pain even during rest.
What are the complications of liver damage?
Liver Damage Causes Fatigue
Liver disease causes fatigue through two different mechanisms. The first is because of the toxic nature of cirrhosis. Patients suffering from this type of liver damage tend to feel miserable due to the accumulation of waste products in their bodies. When the toxic levels in the blood rise sufficiently, they begin to develop symptoms including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and headaches. This causes patients to lose sleep at night and experience a general lack of energy throughout the day. The second reason for feeling tired while having liver disease comes from the process of detoxification. As explained above, the natural function of the liver is to eliminate toxins from the body. When the liver becomes diseased, it cannot perform its normal functions and thus leads to more toxicity in the bloodstream.
Liver Damage Complications
When patients with chronic liver disease are unable to rid themselves of toxins through proper elimination, their bodies will eventually stop producing red blood cells. Since the liver is responsible for making red blood cells, when it fails to produce enough of them, patients may experience anemia. Other frequent complications associated with liver disease are ascites, esophageal varices, and hepatic encephalopathy. Ascites refer to fluid buildup within the abdomen. Esophageal varices are weak spots along the wall of the esophagus. They allow blood to leak into the stomach, which can cause severe internal bleeding. Hepatic encephalopathy involves swelling of brain tissue due to excess ammonia. This condition affects about 20 percent of all patients with end-stage liver disease.
The diagnosis of liver damage
Liver Function Test: Liver function tests determine whether the liver is working properly. This test measures levels of enzymes produced by the liver.
Hepatitis Screening: Hepatitis screening helps identify hepatitis B and C infections.
Ultrasound: Ultrasounds examine the size, shape, and structure of the liver.
Blood Tests: Blood tests measure the number of substances in the blood. Blood tests can detect abnormalities in liver enzymes.
Treatment Options for Liver Disease
The most common treatment option for liver disease comes in the form of a liver transplant. However, not everyone is eligible for a transplant since there are limitations such as age, health status, and medical history. For individuals whose organs might be suitable for donation, there is always hope of a successful organ match. A new liver can take anywhere from 6 months to several years before being fully functional and ready for implantation. While waiting for a donor’s liver, patients must not suffer from dehydration. Dehydration can lead to dangerous electrolyte imbalances and even death.
Antiviral drugs can help slow down the progression of liver damage due to hepatitis C. Combination therapy using interferon alfa and ribavirin is for those with HCV genotypes 2 or 3. Other antiviral medications including telaprevir and boceprevir treat patients with genotype 1.
Resection surgery involves removing some of the diseased portions of the liver without having to remove the entire organ. This may allow the patient to live longer while the remaining healthy liver regains function. However, it is a relatively complex operation requiring extensive training and experience.
Dietary changes are for those suffering from cirrhosis due to alcohol abuse. The first step to controlling this damage is to consume less alcohol, while consuming vitamin A, iron, and protein-rich foods will help regenerate damaged liver cells.
Medications like silymarin are usually prescribed to slow down the progression of the disease and improve overall health. Medications like elafibranor, which helps reduce inflammation, may also be prescribed to treat hepatic encephalopathy.
While these complications are serious, there are also some positive things you can do to help manage the situation. With good nutrition and exercise, you can maintain a healthy weight and combat anaemia by fortifying your diet with iron-rich foods. Another benefit of staying active is that it helps rid the body of toxins that can build up over time. To treat ascites, doctors often recommend diuretics, which prompt the kidneys to remove water from the patient’s body.
Liver damage is a serious medical condition that requires immediate attention. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection results in chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and eventually hepatocellular carcinoma. HCV accounts for 75% of acute viral hepatitis cases; however, less than 1% of patients infected with HCV develop clinical symptoms. There is no vaccine against HCV. However, antiviral therapy can cure HCV.