Liver Conditions

The liver is an organ about the size of a football. It sits just under your rib cage on the right side of your abdomen. The liver is essential for over 500 functions, among them, digesting food and ridding your body of toxic substances.

Liver problems can also be caused by a variety of factors that damage the liver, such as alcohol use, viruses and obesity or by genetics. Over time, conditions that damage the liver can lead to scarring (cirrhosis), which can lead to liver failure, a life-threatening condition. But early treatment may give the liver time to heal.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
is an umbrella term for a range of liver conditions affecting people who drink little to no alcohol. As the name implies, the main characteristic of NAFL Disease is too much fat stored in liver cells.  This is the most common liver disease in the USA affecting about 1/4 of the population.  Obesity and Type 2 diabetes are common conditions for this diagnosis including insulin resistance and high levels of triglycerides (fats) in the blood.  Also high blood pressure and a large waist are risk factors.

Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH) can develop from NAFLD.  NASH is an aggressive form of fatty liver disease which is marked by liver inflammation and may progress to advanced scarring (cirrhosis) liver failure and even liver cancer.  This damage in NASH is similar to the damage caused by heavy alcohol use.

NAFLD and NASH are mostly silent diseases, both linked among other factors, to being overweight or obese.  Many people have NAFLD or NASH and don’t realize it which is a big problem as they are frequently asymptomatic.

Alcohol hepatitis is inflammation of the liver caused by drinking alcohol heavily over many years, however, not all heavy drinkers develop the disease and it can be diagnosed for people that drink only moderately. The most common sign of alcoholic hepatitis is yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice).

Alcohol-related cirrhosis is the most serious form of alcohol-related liver disease. The damage from alcohol-related cirrhosis is not reversible and can cause fatal liver failure.

Fibrosis.  Fibrosis is the formation of an abnormally large amount of scar tissue in the liver. It occurs when the liver attempts to repair and replace damaged cells. Many conditions can damage the liver. Fibrosis itself causes no symptoms, but severe scarring can result in cirrhosis, which can cause symptoms.

Cirrhosis is a late stage of scarring (fibrosis) of the liver caused by many forms of liver diseases and conditions, such as hepatitis and chronic alcoholism. Each time your liver is injured, whether by disease, excessive alcohol consumption or another cause, it tries to repair itself. In the process, scar tissue forms. As cirrhosis progresses, more and more scar tissue forms, making it difficult for the liver to function (decompensated cirrhosis). Advanced cirrhosis is life-threatening.

The liver damage done by cirrhosis generally can’t be undone. But if liver cirrhosis is diagnosed early and the cause is treated, further damage can be limited and, rarely, reversed.

Liver Cancer.  Liver cancer is the growth and spread of unhealthy cells in the liver. Cancer that starts in the liver is called primary liver cancer. Cancer that spreads to the liver from another organ is called metastatic liver cancer. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of primary liver cancer.

About 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with primary liver cancer each year. Primary liver cancer is one of the cancers on the rise in the United States. Primary liver cancer is about twice as common in men than in women.

Determining the Health of your Liver

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