The liver, the largest of the internal organs, essentially monitors all materials absorbed from the diet, converting nutrients to useable form and eliminating potential toxins. It also produces a number of substances essential for life.
Liver disease (also called hepatic disease) is a broad term describing any single number of diseases affecting the liver.
The causes of liver disease range from viruses to gene mutations to environmental factors including medications and alcohol. These diseases typically progress slowly because the organ has a large capacity and can regenerate. These conditions, however, can reach the stage of cirrhosis and in some instances, acute liver failure, which requires urgent evaluation at a transplant center.
Some of the diseases that affect the liver include:
- Hepatitis – inflammation of the liver, caused mainly by various viruses but also by some poisons (e.g. alcohol), autoimmunity (autoimmune hepatitis) or hereditary conditions.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease – associated with obesity and characterized as an abundance of fat in the liver; may lead to a hepatitis, i.e. steatohepatitis and/or cirrhosis.
- Cirrhosis – the formation of fibrous tissue in the liver from replacing dead liver cells. The death of the liver cells can be caused by viral hepatitis, alcoholism or contact with other liver-toxic chemicals.
- Hemochromatosis – a hereditary disease causing the accumulation of iron in the body, eventually leading to liver damage.
- Cancer of the liver – primary hepatocellular carcinoma or cholangiocarcinoma and metastatic cancers, usually from other parts of the gastrointestinal tract.
- Wilson’s disease – a hereditary disease which causes the body to retain copper.
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis – an inflammatory disease of the bile duct.
- Primary biliary cirrhosis – autoimmune disease of small bile ducts.
- Budd-Chiari syndrome – obstruction of the hepatic vein.
- Gilbert’s syndrome – a genetic disorder of bilirubin metabolism.
- Glycogen storage disease type II – the build-up of glycogen causes progressive muscle weakness (myopathy) throughout the body and affects various body tissues, particularly in the heart, skeletal muscles, liver and nervous system.
Symptoms of liver disease include:
- Coated tongue
- Itchy skin
- Excessive sweating
- Offensive body odor
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Red swollen and itchy eyes
- Acne rosacea
- Brownish spots and blemishes on the skin
- Flushed facial appearance
- Excessive facial blood vessels
- Dark urine
- Pale stool
- Bone loss
- Easy bleeding
- Small, spider-like blood vessels visible in the skin
- Enlarged spleen
- Fluid in the abdominal cavity
- Pain from the biliary tract or pancreas
- An enlarged gallbladder
The only real treatment for chronic liver disease at present is a liver transplant.