What is liver disease?

Liver disease, or hepatic disease, is a general term that includes any disease, disorder or condition that affects the liver. The liver is a vital organ located in the right upper area of your abdomen under the ribs. Normal functioning of the liver is crucial to your overall health and life. Liver disease causes liver damage and reduces the liver's ability to perform its vital functions including:

  • Assisting in digestion of food

  • Clearing the blood of toxins

  • Fighting infection

  • Making blood-clotting proteins

  • Metabolizing or processing medications and other substances

  • Producing proteins, enzymes, and healthy blood

  • Removing waste

  • Storing vitamins, minerals and energy

Common forms of liver disease include the following:

  • Autoimmune liver disease is a disorder in which the immune system attacks the body. Examples include autoimmune hepatitis (a form of hepatitis in which the immune system attacks the liver) and primary biliary cirrhosis (swelling and blockage of the bile ducts).

  • Bile duct obstruction is caused by gallstones, tumors, or other factors.

  • Budd-Chiari syndrome is caused by blood clots that block veins in the liver.

  • Cirrhosis of the liver is scarring of liver tissue, which reduces liver function. Cirrhosis of the liver is most commonly caused by chronic alcohol abuse and chronic hepatitis B or C.

  • Congenital abnormalities of the bile ducts block the normal flow of bile.

  • Genetic diseases, such as hemochromatosis (excessive levels of iron in the body that cause liver damage) and Wilson’s disease (an inherited disease that causes excessive retention of copper in the liver).

  • Hepatitis is a viral infection.

  • Liver cancer and benign liver tumors impair the ability of the liver to function normally.

  • Liver failure is deterioration and failure of liver function and a life-threatening complication of serious or end-stage liver disease and damage.

Symptoms of early liver disease can be vague and similar to many other less serious diseases, such as chronic fatigue syndrome or viral gastroenteritis. A hallmark symptom of advancing liver disease is jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.

In some cases of liver disease, rapid diagnosis and treatment may reverse liver disease. However, once permanent liver damage has occurred, it cannot be reversed or cured. Patient compliance with an effective treatment plan may be able to slow or stop progression of liver damage and minimize or delay complications, such as liver failure.

Liver disease is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. Seek prompt medical care if you have unexplained symptoms, such as nausea, fatigue, diarrhea or weakness. In addition, if you have any form of liver disease, do not take any supplements, over-the-counter medications, or prescription drugs without consulting your health care provider. This is because the liver may not be able to clear the drugs from the body, resulting in dangerous, toxic levels of chemicals or substances in the body.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have symptoms of acute or advanced chronic liver disease, such as shakiness, jaundice, confusion, severe shortness of breath, abdominal swelling, or a change in consciousness or alertness. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have overdosed on a drug or ingested a toxic substance.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of liver disease?

Symptoms of liver disease can vary depending on the type of liver disease and individual factors. Early symptoms of liver disease are often not specific and may be confused with symptoms of many other conditions, such as indigestion, viral gastroenteritis, or chronic fatigue syndrome. Early symptoms may include:
... Read more about liver diseasesymptoms

CAUSES

What causes liver disease?

Liver disease is due to a variety of diseases, disorders and conditions that damage the liver. Liver disease usually begins with inflammation and enlargement of the liver, which may be reversible in some cases with prompt treatment. Left untreated, liver inflammation leads to fibrosis (scarring) of the liver tissue that eventually replaces healthy tissue. Scarred liver tissue cannot function no... Read more about liver diseasecauses

TREATMENTS

How is liver disease treated?

Scar tissue formed in the liver due to advanced liver disease is permanent. The goals of treatment are to cure the disease, if possible; prevent, stop or slow the progression of damage to the liver; and minimize and quickly treat any other complications and coexisting conditions, such as portal hypertension and hemor... Read more about liver diseasetreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 6, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Digestive System


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