Have you ever held a football? It’s pretty big, right? Well, that football is about as big as your liver, the largest organ inside the human body. The liver helps your body digest food, fight off illnesses, store energy, and remove toxic substances.
The liver is in the upper right side of the abdomen, beneath the rib cage. There are small lobules that make up two main lobes. The liver cells even have two different sources of blood supply. The intestine and spleen provide nutrients to the portal vein, and the hepatic artery supplies oxygen-rich blood pumped from the heart. The liver is one of the most important organs of the body! It has a number of functions and is the only organ that can easily replace damaged cells.
If something goes wrong, it can be dangerous. Anything that disturbs the liver’s function and causes illness is liver disease. Normally, more than 75% of the liver tissue must be affected before a decline in function occurs.
There are a number of reasons people can be affected with liver disease. Infections, genetics, cancer, and more can cause its development. There are also many different types of liver disease, but the damage to your liver can still progress the same way – regardless of which liver disease you are living with. Here are just a few of the causes for liver disease:
The liver can become inflamed and less functional because of parasites and viruses. Viruses than can cause liver damage can be spread through blood, semen, contaminated food or water, or close contact with another person who is infected. Hepatitis viruses are the most common types of liver infection: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.
If you inherit an abnormal gene from either one of your parents, it can cause various substances to build up in your liver and result in liver damage. A few genetic liver diseases are hemochromatosis, hyperoxaluria and oxalosis, and Wilson’s disease.
Immune System Abnormality
Autoimmune diseases occur when your body begins to attack itself. Your immune system might begin to attack certain parts of your body and affect your liver. Some autoimmune diseases are autoimmune hepatitis, primary biliary cirrhosis, and primary sclerosing cholangitis.
Cancer and Other Growths
Most people don’t show any symptoms in the early stages of liver cancer. Liver cancer, bile duct cancer, and liver adenoma (tumor) are some common examples that can cause liver damage.
Drugs and Alcohol
Alcohol abuse is the number one cause of liver disease in the U.S. Alcoholic hepatitis occurs when the liver becomes inflamed due to alcohol abuse. Alcohol is directly toxic to liver cells. Fat accumulation can occur in liver cells and damage their ability to function in chronic cases.
Even over-the-counter drugs containing acetaminophen, like Tylenol, can cause liver failure if taken in excess. Have you ever wondered why the warning labels limit the number of tablets that can be taken daily? There’s your answer.
There are a number reasons that might increase your risk of developing liver disease:
- Injecting drugs using shared needles
- Tattoos or body piercings
- Exposure to other people’s blood and body fluids
- Unprotected sex
- Exposure to certain chemicals or toxins
- High levels of triglycerides in your blood
If you are worried that you might have liver disease, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Imaging tests and liver function tests can check for liver damage and help with diagnosis. Here are the most common symptoms of liver disease to help you determine if it’s time to see your doctor:
- Weakness and fatigue
- Weight loss
- Swollen abdomen and legs
- Itchy skin
- Dark urine
- Loss of appetite
- Yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
The Four Stages
Just like with any other disease, the liver disease will progressively damage the liver in a similar way.
- Inflammation: Inflammation of the liver shows that there are too many toxins in your body. This is the immune system’s response to foreign substances.
- Fibrosis: If you do not treat the liver while it is inflamed, the liver will begin to scar. The scar tissues will replace the healthy liver tissues and reduce liver function.
- Severe scarring: The next stage is cirrhosis, severe scarring. At this point, the liver is unable to heal itself. Unfortunately, this is when most people notice they have liver disease because the symptoms are clearer.
- Liver failure: Liver failure is when the liver has lost all of its ability to function. Once you’ve reached this stage, the best treatment option is a liver transplant.
Don’t let liver problems slow you down. If you are in the San Antonio area and looking for a liver disease center, visit the Digestive and Liver Disease Center of San Antonio. We provide the most advanced diagnostic methods available for a wide range of conditions, from colorectal cancer and liver disease to gallbladder problems, heartburn, and more. Call us at (210) 941-1662 or visit us online at www.dldsa.com to book your appointment.