Liver Disease

What is Liver Disease?

A liver disease is any condition that injures the liver and prevents it from functioning efficiently to store energy, digest food, and remove toxins. There are numerous causes of liver disease, such as Epstein Barr virus, hemochromatosis, malnutrition, diabetes, cancer, and hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E.

Some genetic conditions, like Wilson’s disease, can affect liver functioning. Lifestyle choices, like abusing alcohol, having unprotected sex, using drugs, sharing needles, and gaining excess weight can increase the risk of a liver disease. If the liver damage is severe enough, it can lead to cirrhosis, or scarring—which can then lead to liver failure. While liver failure often occurs from lifestyle choices over time, there is acute liver failure which can occur in a couple of days after a reaction to an overdose or poisoning.

What are the Symptoms of Liver Disease?

Common symptoms of a liver disease include jaundicing, the tendency to bruise easily, nausea, weight loss, fatigue, abdominal pain, abdominal swelling, bloody or abnormal stool colors, leg swelling, and vomiting. In the early stages liver disease, the liver may become inflamed as it tries to heal an infection.

If the inflammation is left untreated, the disease can develop into cirrhosis, and the liver can become so scarred that the trauma cannot be reversed or healed, which then can lead to liver failure. The first symptoms of liver failure are diarrhea, weight loss, and nausea. However, as liver failure progresses, the symptoms can become even more serious, such as disorientation and even comas.

Liver Disease Causes

Liver disease has many causes, including infection, cancer (and other growths), immune system abnormalities, and genetics. Liver disease resulting from infection is usually due to hepatitis A, B, or C. Parasites that get into the liver can lead to infections that damage the normal liver functions and cause inflammation. These types of viruses can be spread through contaminated food or water, blood, semen, or close contact with an infected person. Bile duct cancer and liver adenoma can cause liver disease or damage as well.

Abnormalities of the immune system can also cause liver disease, such as autoimmune diseases, like primary sclerosing cholangitis, autoimmune hepatitis, or primary biliary cirrhosis. If you inherit an abnormal gene from either or both of your parents, it can cause several substances to build up in your liver, which causes liver disease. Chronic alcoholism and fat accumulation in the liver can also cause liver disease.

How is Liver Disease Treated?

Since inflammation and fibrosis can cause irreversible damage to the liver, it is vital for patients with a liver disease to seek out help as soon as possible for a full recovery. Treatment avenues will depend on testing. Tissue analysis, blood testing, and imaging testing can be conducted to assess the types of damage.

If a person has a virus, like hepatitis A, then the condition will usually clear up on its own. Proper hydration and adequate bed rest is recommended; and a person may get a preventative vaccine for future cases.

If the liver disease is caused by a lifestyle choice, then a person may need to start losing weight, stop abusing alcohol, or stop abusing drugs. During this lifestyle transition, the patient’s liver function should be monitored by a doctor.

Some liver diseases can be treated with drugs, like steroids that reduce inflammation. If damage to the liver is extensive, surgery or even a liver transplant may be necessary.

Liver Disease Prevention

Preventing liver disease can be accomplished by avoiding any risky behaviors, especially if you’re using illegal intravenous drugs. Avoid sharing needles at all costs and make sure any tattoo needles used are clean. Be sure to protect yourself during intercourse using a condom.

Limiting your alcohol intake to one drink per day is recommended if you’re a woman of any age or a man older than 65. For men 65 and younger, two drinks per day is OK. More than three drinks per day is considered high-risk, as is more than seven drinks in a week (for women any age and men older than age 65). For men age 65 and younger, having more than four drinks per day or more than 14 drinks per week is considered heavy drinking and is not recommended.

Getting vaccinated and taking medications according to the prescriptions can help you to prevent liver disease. Make sure not to mix alcohol with any medications. Liver disease can also be prevented by avoiding contact with anyone else’s blood or bodily fluids, maintaining a healthy weight, and protecting your skin against chemicals using gloves, masks or long sleeves. When using aerosol sprays, make sure the room you’re in is properly ventilated and that you’re wearing a mask to avoid inhaling any chemicals.

Last Reviewed:
October 06, 2016
Last Updated:
March 12, 2018