What is Liver Disease?
The liver is considered one of the body’s vital organs and diseases of the liver will also greatly impact the functions of the other body systems. Liver disease can have different etiologies: infectious, neoplastic, or sometimes life-style acquired. This article will discuss a few examples of each, its signs and symptoms, and what to do if you suspect that you have this condition.
The liver is responsible for making sure that toxic substances in the body are filtered and excreted. Apart from that, it creates the body’s most common form of protein, called albumin. It is also responsible for synthesizing the body’s clotting factors, which prevent you from bleeding excessively when you have open wounds. Understanding this is important because liver conditions result in disturbances of these functions.
Patients with liver problems commonly have increased levels of waste substances in their body, they are malnourished because of decreased protein, and they have a greater tendency to bleed and die from hemorrhage than others.
One of the most common forms of liver disease is infectious and predominantly viral in nature. Viral hepatitis is an acute condition that can be acquired though a number of ways: through eating contaminated food, being donated contaminated blood, and can even be sexually transmitted. Its signs and symptoms are a notable yellowing of the skin, fever, chills, loss of appetite, and sometimes vomiting and weight loss. Most are self-limiting, but other forms of viral hepatitis (specifically hepatits B) can be a lifelong disease.
Liver dysfunction can also be neoplastic, meaning that there is a mass growing inside the liver itself. Some of these masses are benign, and thus surgical excision of the mass is usually curative. In most cases, the liver mass will turn out to be cancerous on further work-up. In these cases, surgery is not indicated, and treatment can be through chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Signs and Symptoms of Liver Disease
The signs and symptoms of liver problems can be very broad, and similar to other types of cancer: loss of appetite, weight loss, body weakness and fatigue, pallor, abdominal enlargement, and edema (or swelling) of the hands and feet. Liver cancer is usually considered a terminal illness. In fact, a lot of other cancers tend to spread to the liver because of its rich blood supply.
Lastly, the most common form of liver disease is lifestyle acquired. Alcohol is the main culprit, since ethanol is considered toxic to the body. High levels of this substance leads to direct cell damage and inflammation. Some harmful chemicals and substances in the workplace (like vinyl chloride), have been shown to directly cause angiosarcoma of the liver, a type of cancer.
The symptoms of lifestyle-acquired liver conditions may be similar to cancer. Among alcoholics, it is common for them to manifest with “encephalopathy” – that is, disturbances in mental function because the toxic substances are not excreted and go to the brain.
If you have any of the signs and symptoms above, it is best to consult a doctor. They may order blood work-up, imaging tests to see if there is a growing mass, or they may take samples from the liver for further examination.