What is liver disease?
Liver disease comes in many different forms. In general, it is any disease that affects the function of the liver and causes illness. About seventy-five percent of the liver needs to be affected by disease before the organ begins to see a decrease in function. Let’s take a look at some of the most common types of liver disease:
Common Liver Diseases
Cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is damage to the liver that causes scar tissue to form and replace the healthy liver cells. This type of liver disease is irreversible. It is most often caused by excessive alcohol consumption, or viral hepatitis B or C.
Hepatitis. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The most common types are hepatitis A, B, or C. Viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer. While most forms of hepatitis are contagious, they can also be caused by obesity, alcohol or drug abuse, and allergic reactions.
Non-Alcoholic fatty liver disease. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease happens when your liver is unable to break down fat which causes an accumulation of fat in your liver. It is unclear exactly what causes this type of liver disease. Some people may have little to no symptoms, while others may experience significant inflammation and scarring in the liver. Non-Alcoholic fatty liver disease can become severe and progress into liver failure.
Liver cancer. Liver cancer almost always occurs after a person develops cirrhosis. Having hepatitis also increases your risk of developing liver cancer. In the United States, men are twice as likely to develop liver cancer compared to women.
Liver failure. Liver failure occurs when the liver becomes so damaged that it can no longer be function or be treated. It is life-threatening and is most often caused by hepatitis B or C, excessive alcohol consumption over many years, malnutrition, or hemochromatosis (body stores too much iron).
Liver Disease Risk Factors
If you have any of the following risk factors, you may be at a higher risk for liver disease:
- Excessive alcohol consumption, especially over many years
- Autoimmune disease
- Abusing illegal drugs/sharing needles
- Getting tattoos or body piercings with unsanitary needles
- Multiple sex partners/unprotected sex
- Diabetes or obesity
Because there are a number of different types of liver diseases, the symptoms will vary depending on which type you have. Once liver disease becomes advanced or liver failure occurs, the symptoms are the same. The most common symptoms of liver disease include:
- Jaundice (skin and eyes have a yellowish color due to buildup of bilirubin in the blood)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dark urine color
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Tendency to bruise easily
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Leg and ankle swelling
- Chronic fatigue and weakness
- Right upper quadrant abdominal pain
If you have any of these signs or symptoms, speak to your physician who can further evaluate whether you have liver disease and if so, what type.