What is Liver Disease?

An organ about the size of a football, the liver is located on the right side of your belly, just behind your rib cage. Most people know the basic function of the liver: digesting food and ridding the body of toxic substances. The liver also develops bile, regulates blood coagulation, produces amino acids, and helps to absorb and store iron for red blood cell production. Liver disease, also known as hepatic disease, pertains to many diseases that may affect the liver and its function. When this vital organ becomes diseased, the results can be fatal. 

What Causes Liver Disease?

Liver disease has multiple contributing factors, including but not limited to:

  • Genetics

  • Cancers

  • Abnormal bile flow or bile production

  • Alcohol abuse

  • Excessive consumption of certain medications (i.e. Tylenol)

  • Infection due to parasite or virus exposure

  • Obesity

What are the Symptoms of Liver Disease?

It is important to note that liver disease does not always present with symptoms, but when they do occur they may include:

  • Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)

  • Abdominal pain and swelling

  • Swelling in the lower extremities

  • Itchy skin or skin rash

  • Dark urine and pale stool color

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Lack of appetite

  • Easily bruised 

If you are experiencing any of the above, see your primary care physician. You should seek immediate medical help if you are experiencing severe abdominal pain. 

How is Liver Disease Diagnosed?

After a standard physical examination, your physician may utilize the following diagnostic exams to accurately diagnose if you have some degree of liver disease:

  • Blood tests. These tests can be used to flag abnormal liver function and determine possible genetic components.

  • Imaging tests. An ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI may be performed to generate images that show liver damage and can pinpoint specific diseased portions of the organ.

  • Biopsy. Removing a tissue sample from your liver will allow lab testing to look for signs of physical tissue damage. This process is minimally invasive and is achieved by injecting a thin, long needle into the liver.  

How is Liver Disease Treated?

Liver disease treatment varies depending on how diseased the organ is. Non-genetic, mild cases can often see improvement through lifestyle changes, such as reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption or losing weight. Severe cases may require surgery to remove the diseased sections of the liver, and medication may be prescribed to manage side effects. A liver transplant is required in extreme cases if liver failure has begun. 


 

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