The liver is the largest organ in the body. It is located in the upper right abdomen beneath the diaphragm. It is a reddish-brown organ and can weigh up to three pounds. The liver is an important organ in the body that aids in digestion of food, and regulation of chemical levels in the blood. It excretes bile, which helps to carry waste products away from the liver. Blood passing through the liver is processed to break down nutrients and other substances for absorption by the body. The liver converts excess glucose into glycogen, which can be converted back to glucose when the body's glucose levels are depleted.
Liver diseases affect the liver function and cause severe damage that can sometimes be life-threatening requiring liver transplantation. Although the liver has the ability to regenerate its cells, severe damage, or infection may hinder its regenerative capacity. Liver problems can range from diseases and conditions that are minor and treatable to serious complications that are difficult to treat.
There're many different liver problems that can cause various symptoms. Know what they are to get early treatments and avoid serious complications.
Acetaminophen is a common analgesic agent that causes unintentional toxicity in the body. It is one of the most common causes of liver failure requiring liver transplantation in the most severe cases. Acetaminophen is a component present in many over-the-counter medicines that are commonly used for colds and pain. It is also present in some prescription medicines like Vicodin. Taking more than the prescribed dose can cause liver damage and abnormalities in blood tests that are used to assess the liver function. Liver toxicity occurs when small amounts of acetaminophen are converted to a toxic metabolic byproduct, which binds with proteins in the liver and causes injury to liver cells. The amount of the toxic substance produced and the liver's ability to remove will determine the level of liver injury.
Symptoms usually occur 12 or more hours after one takes the acetaminophen, which may include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, upset stomach, jaundice, irritability, sweating or convulsions. And in severe cases, severe acid buildup in the blood occurs. Bleeding and liver failure are followed by coma.
Overuse of alcoholic products causes alcoholic liver disease and is commonly seen in people who are heavy drinkers. It ultimately leads to liver cirrhosis.
Signs of liver problems in this cases with alcoholic liver disease include abdominal pain and tenderness, confusion, dry mouth, fatigue, fever, jaundice, nausea, and loss of appetite. More severe conditions of liver disease can cause hallucinations, light-headedness, difficulty concentrating, rapid heart rate, and lethargy. Alcoholic liver disease progresses to fatty liver disease, fibrosis, cirrhosis, and alcoholic hepatitis.
Alcohol consumption must be stopped for symptoms to reduce. A high-carbohydrate diet can minimize protein breakdown in the liver. A multivitamin containing thiamine and folic acid shows improvement in the symptoms.
Primary liver cancer can go unnoticed until it has advanced and become very severe because the symptoms are not easily recognizable. Liver cancer is on the rise and increased nearly fifty percent since ten to fifteen years ago. Liver cancer is not easily treatable and can lead to death. This condition is not the same as metastatic liver cancer, which is the result of cancer spreading to the liver from other parts of the body. It is caused when liver cells multiply abnormally damaging the liver.
Symptoms of liver cancer are yellow discoloration of the skin, abdominal pain and swelling, liver enlargement, weakness and lethargy, loss of appetite together with nausea and vomiting. Risk factors of liver cancer include diabetes, heavy drinking, smoking, and hepatitis. Liver cancer treatment methods include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, liver transplantation, and surgery.
Liver cirrhosis does not present with any particular symptoms in the beginning, but gradually the liver begins to get scarred and as scars replace healthy cells and tissues, the liver loses its softness and begins to harden, hindering the blood flow through the liver. Some of the common causes of liver cirrhosis are alcoholic liver disease, autoimmune hepatitis, and blocked bile ducts.
Signs of liver problems as in case with liver cirrhosis include abdominal pain, fatigue, dark-colored urine, lack of appetite, liver failure, nausea, and yellowing of skin and eyes. When damage to the liver is severe, cirrhosis can also cause easy bleeding or bruising, itchiness, ascites, swollen leg, weight loss, redness in your palm, or confusion. In men, symptoms may also include testicular atrophy and enlarged breast.
Treatments: Liver damage due to cirrhosis is often irreversible although treatment can delay disease progression. Stopping excessive use of alcohol and following a healthy diet can help liver cirrhosis patients. Excessive scarring of the liver leading to liver damage will require liver transplantation.
A liver cyst is a cavity in the liver that is thin-walled and usually filled with fluid. The cysts usually do not cause problems and are benign. They can grow large causing abdominal pain, bloating and discomfort. In case of parasitic cysts, fever, severe skin itchiness and bloody sputum may occur.
It is believed that some other conditions like Caroli's disease can cause liver cysts. Sometimes liver cysts are caused due to choledochal cysts or they could be congenital in origin. Benign liver cysts do not require treatment but some cysts need medical attention and a liver biopsy can determine the cause of the cyst.
Fatigue and malaise accompanied by pain in the right upper abdomen may be symptoms of fatty liver disease. In advanced stages of fatty liver disease, symptoms may include nausea, lack of appetite, liver failure, weight loss, etc. Obese individuals who develop fatty liver disease may develop liver cirrhosis. Fatty liver disease may be caused due to metabolic syndrome, which can include risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. In fatty liver disease, the healthy liver cells are replaced by fat cells. Simple fatty liver disease is called steatosis in which the liver is enlarged due to fat deposits. Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis is a condition where fat continues to deposit causing necrosis of the liver leading to scar tissue.
Fibrous tissue forms in the liver to cause liver fibrosis leading to loss of liver function. Symptoms of liver fibrosis include abdominal pain, easy bruising, fatigue, itchy hands, nausea, edema, weakness, weight loss, etc. Liver fibrosis is considered the third stage of alcoholic liver disease. Scarring of the liver due to fibroids can cause disruption in blood circulation to the liver leading to liver failure.
Hepatitis refers to the inflamed liver. Hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D, or E cause hepatitis, although excessive alcohol, toxins, and some drugs can cause hepatitis. Hepatitis can be acute or chronic. Signs and symptoms of hepatitis include abdominal pain, dark urine, enlarged liver, fatigue, jaundice, etc. Hepatitis A and B vaccines are used for treatment of people exposed to hepatitis A or B virus.
Sclerosing cholangitis is the inflammation of bile ducts leading to the liver. It is often associated with ulcerative colitis. Symptoms include bile duct infection causing chills and fever, fatigue, itching, and severe jaundice due to inflammation of the bile duct. The condition is diagnosed by cholangiography, which refers to injecting dye into the bile ducts prior to taking an x-ray. Treatment strategies include antibiotics, vitamin supplements, and antipruritics to relieve itching.
Jaundice is considered a symptom, not a disease. It causes yellow discoloration to the skin and the eyes due to the accumulation of bilirubin, an enzyme present in the bile. Jaundice may be the result of an underlying condition such as autoimmune hepatitis, blocked bile ducts, drug-induced hepatitis, chronic active hepatitis, etc.