Your liver is the largest solid organ in your body, and it’s responsible for helping digest food, storing energy and removing poisons. If it becomes diseased or injured, the consequences can be significant and may even lead to liver failure.
Liver disease is a broad term that describes any potential disturbance of liver function. Generally, more than 75 percent or three quarters of your liver needs to be affected before its function is decreased.
Signs of liver damage can vary but may include:
Sometimes people with liver disease don’t have any noticeable symptoms. There are imaging tests, liver function tests and tissue analysis (biopsy) to check for liver damage and help diagnose liver disease.
Alcohol & Cirrhosis – drinking too much alcohol can lead to fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver, which involves the loss of liver cells and irreversible scarring. Alcohol abuse is the most common cause of liver disease in North America.
Drug-Induced Liver Disease – excessive amounts of acetaminophen (pain reliever) can cause acute liver damage.
Fatty Liver Disease – a condition that builds up fat in your liver. There are two types: nonalcoholic due to obesity and alcoholic.
Toxic mushroom ingestion, excessive iron in the liver (hereditary) and excessive copper in the liver (Wilson’s disease) can also lead to liver disease.
Liver failure can occur suddenly (rare) or over the course of several years. It’s a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical care. The first signs of liver failure may include nausea, confusion, fatigue, diarrhea and loss of appetite. Since those symptoms can be associated with a number of other health conditions, it can be difficult to tell that your liver is failing.
As the failure progresses, you’ll notice more serious symptoms like confusion, feeling disoriented and extreme sleepiness. Coma and even death are possible.
If you’re experiencing liver failure, your Mercy care team will do everything we can to save the part of your liver that’s still working. If that’s not possible, you may need to have a liver transplant.
Treatment for liver disease depends on the type and severity of your diagnosis. Sometimes, lifestyle modifications like losing weight or stopping alcohol can help. In other cases, you may need medications or even surgery.
If you have concerns about liver disease, talk with your primary care provider. He or she can help determine if you’re experiencing liver disease and what may have caused it, and refer you to a gastroenterologist for more specialized care if needed.