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The liver is the largest organ of the human body. It is also the largest gland in the human body. The liver performs many tasks related to metabolism, energy storage, and detoxification of body waste. It performs the function of two different glands. As the secretory gland, it makes and secretes bile into the bile ducts and as an endocrine gland, it makes and secretes chemicals directly into the blood. The liver helps in the digestion of food by converting it to energy and storing it for use later. It also filters harmful toxins out of the bloodstream.
The liver is located just below the diaphragm, in the upper right part of the abdomen, under the ribs. It is a dome-like structure with two parts- the larger right lobe and the smaller left lobe.
The liver is responsible for performing various important and complex functions:
- It synthesizes proteins to maintain the volume of blood and blood clotting factors.
- It synthesizes, stores and processes fats, fatty acids and cholesterol.
- It metabolizes and stores carbohydrates which are used as a source of glucose.
- It forms and secretes bile to help in the intestinal absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins.
- It eliminates the harmful biochemical products produced by the body.
- It helps to detoxify drugs, alcohol, and other environmental toxins.
Liver Disease refers to any condition which affects the liver. The condition in the liver may develop for different reasons and damage the liver and its functioning. The liver usually takes the damage before the disease interferes with the functions of the liver and shows signs. Some of the signs and symptoms of liver disease are:
- Jaundice: Jaundice is the yellowing of the skin when the liver is unable to properly metabolize or excrete bilirubin (yellow pigment) in the bile.
- Bleeding and bruising: When the liver is unable to make enough normal blood clotting proteins, it can cause bleeding or easy bruising
- Swelling of the legs: When the liver is unable to make enough albumin, it can cause swelling of the legs with edema.
- Fatigue: This may be caused due to the impaired metabolic function of the liver.
- Other symptoms Dark Urine, black stool, nausea, and vomiting are some of the other symptoms.
As the liver is responsible for some very important functions, when it doesn't work well, it can affect the whole body.
What are some of the common liver diseases?
- Hepatitis: Hepatitis is the viral infection in the liver which causes inflammation and liver damage. It makes it difficult for the liver to function properly. Even though all types of hepatitis are contagious, the risk can be reduced by getting a vaccination for type A and type B of Hepatitis.
- Hepatitis A: This type of Hepatitis is usually spread through contact with contaminated food and water. The symptoms can be cleared with treatment within a few weeks.
- Hepatitis B: This can be short term as well as long term. It is spread through bodily fluids like blood and semen. The key to avoiding complications in this condition is early treatment as there is no such cure for it.
- Hepatitis C: This condition occurs when one comes in contact with the blood of someone with hepatitis C. This condition can cause permanent liver damage.
- Hepatitis D: This condition develops in those with hepatitis B. It is a serious condition that can be either acute or chronic.
- Hepatitis E: This condition is caused by drinking contaminated water and it clears up on its own within a few weeks.
- Fatty Liver Disease: When excessive fat builds up in the liver, it can lead to fatty liver disease.
- Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease : This is caused due to heavy alcohol consumption.
- Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease:It is caused due to other factors.
- Genetic Conditions: There are several conditions that may be inherited from either of the parents which can affect the liver.
- Hemochromatosis: This condition causes the body to store more iron than it requires. If not managed over a long period of time, it can lead to liver damage.
- Wilson’s Disease: This condition causes the liver to absorb copper instead of releasing it into the bile ducts. As the liver stores more copper, it travels in the bloodstream damaging other parts of the body including the brain.
- Alpha-1 Antitrypsin (AT) Deficiency: This condition occurs when the liver can’t make enough of the alpha-1 protein. This protein prevents enzyme breakdowns throughout the body. There is no cure for this deficiency, but treatment can help.
- Autoimmune Conditions: In this condition, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells of the body.
- Autoimmune Hepatitis: In this condition, the immune system attacks the liver resulting in inflammation. If this condition is not treated, it can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.
- Primary Biliary Cirrhosis (PBC): This condition results from damage in the bile ducts causing the bile to build-up. This condition may also lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.
- Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis: This is an inflammatory condition that causes damage in the bile ducts causing them to become blocked and building up bile in the liver. This condition may also lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.
- Cancer:There are two types of cancer, one which develops in the liver, and the other which develops in the other part of the body and spreads to the liver. The most common type of liver cancer is called Hepatocellular Carcinoma. Complications due to other diseases that aren’t treated may contribute to the development of liver cancer.
- Cirrhosis:Cirrhosis is the scarring of the liver which results from liver diseases. Although the liver can regenerate itself in response to the damage, this process causes the development of the scar tissue. As the scar tissue develops, it makes it harder for the liver to function properly. Cirrhosis is usually treatable but if it is left unmanaged, it can cause life-threatening complications.
- Liver Failure: Liver Failure occurs when the liver or a significant part of the liver is left damaged and cannot function properly. One may not have symptoms initially but over time, they can notice signs like jaundice, diarrhea, fatigue, nausea, and confusion. There are two types of liver failure- Acute and Chronic. Acute Liver Failure happens suddenly whereas chronic liver failure develops over time.
Both types of fatty liver disease can cause damage in the liver leading to cirrhosis and liver failure. One needs to incorporate diet and other lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of complications.