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The Basics of Liver Disease

January 16, 2018

liver specialist san antonioFrom pollution to pesticides, it is easy to breathe in or ingest a variety of unhealthy chemicals that are found in the environment. Fortunately, the liver has a remarkable ability to cleanse the blood of the many toxins that people come in contact with every day. The liver is the largest solid organ in the body, often compared to the size of a football, and it sits just under the ribcage on the right-hand side of the abdomen.

The liver contributes to the production of proteins, blood clotting factors, cholesterol, and triglycerides. It is responsible for glycogen synthesis and bile production, as well as a host of other functions, making it one of the most critical components of the entire digestive system. Unfortunately, a wide variety of medical conditions can negatively impact the liver, which impedes its ability to perform at full efficiency. In serious cases, the liver may fail altogether. This can occur over weeks or months in some cases, while in others the liver fails in a matter of hours.

Accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment by skilled liver doctors in San Antonio are the best ways to ensure that liver-related health issues are corrected as quickly as possible.

Common Symptoms of Liver Conditions

Because the liver is such a hard worker, diseases may be fairly advanced before any significant symptoms are experienced. Patients who have lost approximately 75 percent of their liver function often report some or all of the following:

  • Jaundice, yellowing of the eyes and skin
  • Pain and swelling in the abdomen
  • Swelling in the legs and ankles
  • Darker than normal urine color
  • Particularly pale stool
  • Black stool
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Easily bruised
  • Itchiness, particularly on palms and soles of feet

While all of these can be symptoms of other conditions, it is important to consult a physician to rule out serious illness. Liver doctors in San Antonio, TX, can ensure an accurate diagnosis and a comprehensive treatment plan.

Guide to Diseases of the Liver

Because the liver serves so many functions, it can be impacted by a long list of diseases. The most frequently diagnosed include the following:

  • Hemochromatosis – Most diseases that affect the liver are caused by viruses and lifestyle choices. However, hemochromatosis is different. This condition is inherited, and it results in excessive iron absorption. The outcome is high levels of iron in the blood, as well as deposits of iron in the joints.
  • Hepatitis A – This infection of the liver is caused by a highly contagious virus. The virus attacks the liver, resulting in inflammation and loss of liver function. Fortunately, this condition can be prevented through vaccinations.
  • Hepatitis B – Hepatitis B occurs when the liver becomes inflamed in response to an attack by a specific virus. Fortunately, there is a vaccine for the virus that causes Hepatitis B, and most children receive the appropriate doses during the standard course of childhood vaccinations.
  • Hepatitis C – As with other forms of hepatitis, this condition causes inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis C is caused by a virus that is transmitted through bodily fluids.
  • Alcoholic Hepatitis – Unlike other forms of hepatitis that are caused by viruses, alcoholic hepatitis is directly linked to over-consumption of alcohol. The excessive amounts of alcohol moving through the liver result in inflammation.
  • Liver Cirrhosis – Though it is commonly linked to overuse of alcohol, cirrhosis of the liver simply refers to scarring of the liver tissue. There are a variety of reasons why this can occur. The scarring reduces liver function, eventually leading to complete failure of the organ.
  • Fatty Liver Disease – Though most people are familiar with liver diseases that impact heavy users of alcohol, many are unaware that fatty liver disease can strike regardless of alcohol consumption. This condition develops when the liver accumulates large amounts of fat, impeding its ability to function.

Treatments for Liver Diseases

Selecting the appropriate treatment or combination of treatments for liver disease starts with an accurate diagnosis. The final treatment plan depends on the specific condition affecting the organ. When the disease is caused by lifestyle choices, it may be possible to slow or stop symptoms through lifestyle changes. These often include the elimination of alcohol and drugs and maintaining a healthy body weight. Changes in diet and exercise habits are generally required for greatest effectiveness. Physicians typically monitor the liver’s progress through blood tests and other diagnostic methods to ensure that the changes are making a positive impact.

There are medications designed to protect the liver, and in some cases, damage can be reversed. The liver is one of the few organs that can heal itself under the right circumstances. However, if complete liver failure is imminent, there simply isn’t time to address the issue through medication and lifestyle changes. Such a loss of liver function is life-threatening. In this situation, liver specialists may recommend a liver transplant for eligible patients.

For more information on conditions affecting the liver, including the most current methods of treatment, contact the liver specialists at San Antonio’s Digestive & Liver Disease Center for an appointment.