The liver is the second largest organ in our body. The key functions of the liver include the production and metabolism of various chemicals in the body like carbohydrates, fat and proteins. The liver also helps in the excretion of bile, toxins and drugs. Any alteration of these functions can affect the entire body's metabolism which can sometimes lead to life-threatening situations.
Various liver diseases:
Inflammation of the liver cells is caused by various viruses like Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis A and E are transmitted by contaminated food and water while B, C and D are transmitted through infected blood and body fluids.
It is the most common cause of liver damage worldwide. It is caused by the accumulation of fat in liver cells which can lead to liver damage. This condition is more common in obese, diabetic and those patients with high cholesterol.
Alcoholic Liver Disease
Alcohol and its metabolic products cause damage to liver cells. This can lead to fatty liver, hepatitis, cirrhosis and cancer. This group of diseases are called alcoholic liver disease.
Drugs and chemicals
Liver diseases can be caused by some drugs and chemicals, especially herbal and indigenous medications.
Extensive damage to liver cells by various conditions can lead to cirrhosis. In the initial stages of cirrhosis, there may not be any symptoms. But later patients may develop complications like fluid in the abdomen, blood in vomit or stool, or altered sensorium.
Primary liver cancers develop in patients with cirrhosis or hepatitis. Sometimes cancers develop in the liver as it spreads from tumours at other sites.
Rare diseases of the liver
Rare causes of liver diseases include autoimmune, genetic and metabolic conditions.
Symptoms of liver disease
In the initial stages of liver disease, a patient may not have any symptoms. Symptoms of liver disease include generalized weakness, yellowish discoloration of the eyes, abdominal swelling, and oedema of legs. Patients may have blood in stool or vomit, altered sensorium etc.
Testing for liver disease
Initial evaluation includes blood tests like liver function test, platelet count, hepatitis B and C testing etc. The patient may need to undergo an ultrasound abdomen, fibro scan and endoscopy depending on the stage of liver disease. It is best to consult your family physician or a specialist and follow their advice.
How to prevent liver diseases?
» Avoid alcohol intake.
» Healthy food habits (avoid excess carbohydrates and fat in the diet, include fruits and vegetables).
» Weight reduction in obese people (10% weight reduction over 6 months might be sufficient).
» Regular exercise (Daily 45 minutes, aerobic exercises like brisk walking, swimming, cycling etc.)
» Control diabetes and blood cholesterol.
» Use boiled water and follow proper food hygiene.
» Avoid sharing blades, razors and needles.
» Vaccinate against Hepatitis B.
» Avoid use of drugs without prescriptions, especially indigenous and herbal drugs.
(Dr. Abdul Majeed is Gastroenterologist, Centre For Gastrosciences, Meitra Hospital, Kozhikode)