The liver is the largest internal organ in the human body. It plays an important in various bodily functions like detoxifying metabolites, synthesizing proteins and producing bio-chemicals that are necessary for digestion. The liver also regulates glycogen storage, production of hormones and decomposition of red blood cells.
It filters toxins out of the bloodstream, hence protecting tissues from damage and can also mend its own damaged tissues. Hence, liver tissue can be regenerated over time to support the efficient functioning of your body’s filtration process. However, there are some liver conditions that are irreversible and can become life-threatening if not treated immediately. According to reports from the World Health Organization, liver disease is the tenth most common cause of death in India.
Causes Of Liver Disease –
Liver disease can be a result of a collection of infections and disorders that affect the tissues, cells and structure of the liver. In extreme cases, liver damage can lead to the failure of its functions altogether. Here’s a list of a few liver disease causes –
1. Genetics –
If you inherit an abnormal genetic liver disease like Wilson’s disease, Hemochromatosis or Hyperoxaluria and oxalosis, from one or both of your parents, various substances can build up in your liver leading to liver damage.
2. Abnormal Immune System –
Primary biliary cirrhosis, autoimmune hepatitis and primary sclerosing cholangitis are autoimmune diseases in which the immune system attacks certain parts of your body, thus, affecting the liver.
3. Infection –
Numerous viruses and parasites cause inflammation of the liver, hence, reducing the effectiveness of its functionality. These viruses can be spread through contaminated water or food, semen, blood or contact with an infected person. Hepatitis A, B and C are the most common types of liver infections.
4. Unhealthy Lifestyle –
In India, chronic alcohol abuse is one of the major causes of liver diseases. Other causes include an unhealthy diet, obesity, lack of exercise and unprotected sex.
Symptoms Of Liver Diseases –
Some liver conditions can lead to permanent damage. Identifying the signs of liver diseases and early diagnosis followed by swift treatment can mean the difference between a treatable illness and a life-threatening situation. However, like most illnesses, it is difficult to ascertain the signs and symptoms of liver diseases in the early stages. Therefore, it is important to visit your medical practitioner immediately if your body shows any of these symptoms –
1. Abdominal Swelling –
A malfunctioning liver can lead to the imbalance of protein and other compounds. This leads to build up of fluids in the tissue which results in a swollen abdomen. This condition is called ascites. The most common symptom of ascites is a prominent potbelly, often signalling cirrhosis. Based on the extremity of the condition, the swelling may even spread to your arms, feet and ankles.
2. Abdominal Pain –
Liver cirrhosis causes pain in the upper right abdomen and can come and go in recurrent throbbing or stabbing patterns. Seek immediate medical assistance if these symptoms persist and the pain becomes unbearable.
3. Bruising –
The production of proteins needed for blood clotting reduces when your liver is damaged. Hence, you bleed and bruise more easily.
4. Irritated Skin –
Itchy skin that develops into flaky rashes is also a sign of liver damage. Liver diseases may also result in other skin problems like change in skin colour and tone, reddening of hands or feet, or yellowing of mucous membrane and skin (jaundice). In some cases, the veins show through the skin.
5. Loss Of Appetite –
Nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss, and digestive discomfort are early signs of liver problems.
6. Vomiting –
An upset stomach and ongoing nausea are early symptoms of liver disease. A damaged liver has reduced the ability to eliminate bodily toxins and hence, there is an increase in digestive distress.
7. Jaundice –
When bodily wastes cannot be eliminated efficiently, the bile pigment called bilirubin builds up in the bloodstream. This results in yellowed skin and eyes, dark coloured urine and light coloured stools.
8. Changes In Urine –
Dark coloured urine may be a result of the presence of increased levels of bilirubin in the bloodstream. While it isn’t always a reason for alarm, if the condition persists for longer durations, it can lead to toxicity and result in neurological impairments, uncontrolled reflexes and eye movements, and seizures.
9. Changes In Stool –
There are a number of changes in the bowel movements when your liver is damaged. These symptoms typically present themselves as –
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Constipation (with a presence of blood in the stools)
- Changes in the colour of the stools (unusually pale)
While you may experience constipation from time to time, it is alarming when it becomes chronic. IBS leads to bouts of diarrhoea or constipation, chronic abdominal pain, and an urgent and frequent need to pass bowel movements.
10. Retention Of Fluids –
A damaged liver restricts the ability of producing and circulating proteins which causes circulatory problems that leads to retention of fluids in the body. As gravity naturally pulls down to the lower parts of the body, these fluids are localized to the legs, ankles and feet. In most cases, these fluids can be drawn out of the body with diuretics eliminates excess bodily fluids in the form of urine. In extreme cases, the bodily fluids will have to be removed surgically if diuretics fail.
11. Change In Personality –
Liver damage can affect cognitive functions when toxins build up in the bloodstream and reach the brain. This causes problems with concentration, confusion, lack of focus, and are the first symptoms of toxin overload. Liver diseases can also lead to changes in the sleeping patterns, forgetfulness and unresponsiveness.
12. Weakness & Fatigue –
In the early stages of liver diseases, you might experience constant weakness and fatigue. While most people associate this with the stress of day to day activities, it should be addressed immediately if the condition persists. Some people also experience a disinterest in sex.
13. Changes In Skin –
Some people with damaged liver may experience premature ageing and skin wrinkling. You may also experience brown liver spots on your face and rest of the body. The skin may also break out in acne and painful rashes that lead to ulcers.
14. Flu-like Symptoms –
The initial stages of liver diseases can lead to unexplained flu-like symptoms including the common cold, mild fever, headache and joint pain.
15. Other Symptoms –
Some of the other signs and symptoms of liver damage are –
- Curling of fingers
- Hair loss
- Enlargement of salivary glands
- Shrinking of testes
- Appearance of spider-like veins on the surface of the skin
Prevention Of Liver Diseases –
As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Here’s a bunch of things you can do to avoid liver related problems and diseases –
1. Cut down your alcohol consumption
2. Try to restrict your calorie intake to 1400 per day
3. Consume a low fat, low rice and low sugar diet. Add vegetables that are rich in antioxidants to your diet. Antioxidants protect your liver cells against damage and detoxify your bloodstream
4. Work out for at least 45 minutes a day for 5 days per week. You can opt for physical activities such as yoga, jogging or aerobics
5. Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is one of the major causes of liver disease
6. Liver diseases are sometimes transmitted through semen. Practise safe sex
7. If you are planning to get tattoos or piercings, make sure that the needles are sterilized
8. Get regular health check-ups with your medical practitioner
Chronic liver disease presents a major health concern worldwide. Identifying symptoms and diagnosing it is important for effective treatment. There are numerous medical tests that reveal the liver health and provide appropriate courses of therapy in case of damage. You can save a regenerate healthy liver tissue if you manage to slow down the progress of liver disease. Eat healthy, drink loads of water, and stay fit! Let us know more ways to prevent liver diseases in the comments section.