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Your liver is your body’s largest organ, and it does a lot of work. It digests food, regulates cholesterol and metabolism, stores energy and removes toxins. If your liver is damaged, the consequences can be significant and even lead to liver failure.
Liver disease is a group of conditions and disorders that can damage the liver and reduce its function. Examples include fatty liver disease, cirrhosis (severe scarring) and hepatitis. Liver disease may be inherited, or it can be acquired through lifestyle factors like obesity and alcohol or drug use. More than 75% of the liver must be affected to reduce its function.
Fatty liver disease is a buildup of excess fat in the liver. It can be caused by heavy alcohol use (alcoholic fatty liver disease, or alcoholic steatohepatitis), but it isn’t always alcohol related. The cause of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is unknown, but it’s more common in people with obesity, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and other conditions.
It depends on the type of disease and how severe it is. The liver can repair itself, and lifestyle changes like losing weight and avoiding alcohol may reverse some liver damage. But more advanced disease, such as cirrhosis (severe scarring), is permanent and can lead to liver failure.
Skin rash is a common symptom of hepatitis C, which infects and damages the liver. Hepatitis C rash is red, itchy, and sometimes swollen. It can appear on many areas across the body. Hepatitis C rash may look like an allergic reaction.
Liver disease can progress through four stages: inflammation, fibrosis, cirrhosis and liver failure. In the first stage, the liver becomes swollen or inflamed (inflammation). The inflamed liver can form scar tissue that replaces healthy tissue (fibrosis). Scarring can become severe, reducing liver function (cirrhosis). In some cases, liver function decreases dramatically and may cause the organ to stop working (liver failure).
Some people who have liver disease don’t notice any symptoms. Others may have swelling, bruising, color changes in urine or stool, yellowing skin or eyes (jaundice), weakness, fatigue, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, GI bleeding, skin rashes or mental confusion. Imaging tests, liver function tests and tissue biopsies are used to help diagnose liver disease.
Some liver diseases can be avoided by living a healthy lifestyle. Habits that protect liver health include minimizing alcohol consumption, eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise. Ask your Mercy provider about other preventive measures based on your personal risk factors.
Mercy has liver disease specialists across most our communities.
Find a gastroenterologist near you.