Many different liver conditions fall under the umbrella of liver disease. Causes of liver disease vary widely, and it can be caused by infection, overconsumption of alcohol, and genetics, among other reasons. Oftentimes, liver disease is very treatable, as the liver is very resilient. However, a liver disease that involves scarring of the liver, such as cirrhosis, is much more serious. It’s best to diagnose liver disease in its earliest stages to help prevent the development of scar tissue. It’s estimated that 1 in 10 Americans have liver disease, with about 5 million Americans suffering from cirrhosis or chronic liver disease.
Diseases of the liver have separate causes, so the severity and treatment vary widely for each type of disease. Different types of liver disease include:
Because the term liver disease comprises many conditions, symptoms can differ across diseases. However, the most common symptom of liver disease is jaundice, which is a yellowing of the eyes and skin. This occurs when there is too much bilirubin that the liver can’t process. Those with NAFLD may experience no symptoms at all. Other common symptoms of liver disease include:
If you experience any of these symptoms for more than a day or two, consult your gastroenterologist, particularly if you notice a yellowing of the skin or eyes. Liver disease must be treated by a healthcare provider so that it does not progress to scarring. Also, some types of liver disease increase the risk of liver cancer.
Your physician will first conduct a physical exam and talk with you about your symptoms. Liver disease can be diagnosed with one or more of the following diagnostics:
How liver disease is treated depends on the type of disease and severity. Some liver disease is easily managed, while other patients may require a liver transplant in serious cases.
Medications are often the first-line treatment for viral infections (liver disease such as hepatitis). In these cases, antiviral medications are used, such as entecavir (Baraclude) and tenofovir (Viread) for Hepatitis B and glecaprevir/pibrentasvir (Mavyret) and sofosbuvir/velpatasvir (Epclusa) for Hepatitis C. Severe cases of chronic viral hepatitis that are left untreated may require a liver transplant.
Your physician will also likely recommend changes in lifestyle habits if these are contributing factors to your liver disease. Abstaining from alcohol is recommended for fatty liver disease, even if you have NAFLD. Abstinence from alcoholic fatty liver disease is imperative to reverse damage in the early stages, otherwise, cirrhosis can develop. Cirrhosis may require a liver transplant. If you have NAFLD, your doctor may recommend limiting your caloric intake, adding more fiber into your diet, and a regimen to reduce weight.
If liver disease is not successfully treated, liver failure is imminent. At this stage, a patient may need a liver transplant, which replaces a damaged liver with a healthy one.
Some types of liver disease are inherited, and prevention isn’t possible. However, other types of liver disease are preventable. To help prevent the development of liver disease, you can:
Hepatitis can also be avoided by practicing safe sex, not sharing needles, and washing your hands often.
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