Liver is one of the larger internal organs of the body. Its main function is to aid digestion of food. It also carries out various other vital functions like producing proteins, storing and metabolising nutrients and detoxifying blood by removing alcohol, medications and other harmful chemicals from the bloodstream. There are various factors that may affect the normal functioning of the liver and cause various disorders.
Some common disorders
Jaundice is a disorder that causes yellowish colouring of the skin and eyes. A few red blood cells in our body die everyday, and these are replaced by new red blood cells. As the old cells breakdown they process billirubin. It is the function of the liver to process the dying blood cells as they break down and remove the billirubin via stools. In case the level of billirubin rises it leads to jaundice. The level of bilirubin may rise as a result of malfunctioning of the liver or increase in the number of dying red blood cells that go to the liver for processing. Jaundice can also be caused due to underlying illnesses like cancer and hepatitis. A billirubin blood test is done to determine jaundice. However, if the doctor suspects an underlying ailment, a complete blood count, abdominal ultrasound, CT scan, liver biopsy etc. are done to detect the cause. Treatment depends on the underlying cause of jaundice. If the underlying cause is treated, jaundice is automatically cured.
Alcoholic liver disease
Chronic alcoholism causes damage to the liver and leads to various disorders such as fatty liver, cirrhosis and alcoholic hepatitis. Long term alcoholic liver disease can also lead to cancer. This disease exhibits symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, fever, loss of appetite, swelling and discomfort in the upper right side of the abdomen etc. The first and foremost advice given to the patient is to quit alcohol. It is difficult for an alcoholic to quit alcohol easily. Hence, seeking professional help from rehab centres is recommended. Patients with severe damage may be advised to undergo a transplant.
Hepatitis is a disorder that causes swelling and inflammation of the liver. There are mainly two types of hepatitis:
Acute hepatitis – sudden or short term inflammation of the liver
Chronic hepatitis – slow and progressive inflammation and damage that usually lasts for more than six months.
The most common cause of hepatitis is a viral infection. Until the late 1980s only hepatitis A and hepatitis B were known. However, it has now been found that there are other viruses that cause hepatitis and are identified as hepatitis C, D and E. All these viruses can cause acute hepatitis and damage the liver causing swelling and inflammation. They can be prevented by maintaining good personal hygiene and practising safe sex. There is no specific treatment for hepatitis; adequate rest and avoiding alcohol consumption can help to recover fast.
Apart from viral infections, alcohol (alcoholic hepatitis) and drug abuse (drug induced hepatitis) as well as certain metabolic disorders can also lead to chronic hepatitis. In chronic hepatitis, as the liver tissues get replaced by scar tissues over a period of time, functioning of the liver is disrupted, thus causing severe damage. Chronic hepatitis can slowly develop and lead to fatty liver, cirrhosis, cancer and also liver failure.
Cirrhosis often occurs in the late stages of various liver disorders. In this disorder the normal tissues get replaced by fibrous scar tissues. This damage is irreversible and causes malfunction. The two leading causes of cirrhosis are viral infection (particularly hepatitis B and C viruses) and alcohol abuse. Cirrhosis can also be caused due to inflammation of the bile ducts. It is more common in women, and causes the bile to build up, thus damaging the liver tissue. Symptoms include poor appetite and weight loss. The patient may also suffer from nausea and show symptoms of jaundice such as yellowish colouration of eyes and skin. Various blood tests as well as CT scan and ultrasound can determine the extent of damage.
Liver, a vital organ in our body, carries out various important functions. But due to certain disorders, addictions, and infections, it may gradually deteriorate over the years (chronic failure) or stop functioning suddenly (acute failure). The symptoms may include drowsiness and a state of confusion and agitation. It may also cause poor memory and gradually lead to failure of kidneys and lungs. Chronic failure may display symptoms like swollen abdomen, redness in palms and spider naevi (numerous spider like blood vessels in the skin) may develop. Very few people with a chronic failure can fully recover with medication; a transplant becomes a necessity.
Liver cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer around the world. A cancerous tumour originates in the liver cells causing hindrance in the functioning of the organ. It can be caused due to several factors such as consuming food contaminated with carcinogens, drug and alcohol abuse or other diseases such as cirrhosis and hepatitis. A person suffering from this type of cancer may suffer from pain in the upper right side of the abdomen. Other symptoms include weight loss and fever as well as yellowish colouration of skin and eyes. A biopsy can help determine this form of cancer. If the cancer has not reached an advanced stage the tumour can be surgically removed else other cancer treatments such as chemotherapy may be given.
Cancerous cells from some other part of the body get circulated through blood to settle in the organ, causing dysfunction. These cells multiply here and result in several metastases of various sizes. The symptoms are same as that of liver cancer. Possibility of surgical removal of tumours is very rare. However, if there is a solitary metastases, surgery can be considered.