Liver Disease Resources
Liver disease, also known as hepatic disease, is a general term for many different kinds of diseases that affect the liver. Among the more commonly known are:
- Inherited diseases such as Hemochromatosis (iron overload disease) or Wilson disease (copper storage disease)
- Diseases that are the result of drugs, poisons, or alcohol abuse
Depending on the type of liver disease, the patient may have cirrhosis (scar tissue on the liver) or jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), or both.
Symptoms of Liver Disease:
Some people who have hepatitis have no symptoms. Others may have:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dark-colored urine and pale bowel movements
- Stomach pain
Blood tests are done to determine the type of virus causing the hepatitis.
What Are The Types of Liver Disease?
Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. Most cases are primarily caused by a virus, although it can be caused by drug or alcohol abuse or by an auto-immune disease. The different types of hepatitis (A through E) refer to the strain of virus that caused the inflammation.
What is Hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). The disease is spread primarily through food or water contaminated by stool from an infected person.
HAV can cause swelling of the liver, but it rarely causes lasting damage. Patients often feel as if they have the flu or they may have no symptoms at all. It usually gets better on its own after several weeks.
What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). It spreads by contact with an infected person's blood, semen, or other body fluid. An infected woman can give hepatitis B to her baby at birth.
Patients with HBV often feel as if they have the flu, or they may experience no symptoms at all. HBV usually gets better on its own after a few months. If it does not get better, it is called chronic HBV, which lasts a lifetime. Chronic HBV can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver failure, or liver cancer. Chronic HBV is treated with drugs that slow or stop the virus from damaging the liver.
What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It usually spreads through contact with infected blood. It can also spread through sex with an infected person and from mother to baby during childbirth.
Most people who are infected with hepatitis C don't have any symptoms for years. Usually, hepatitis C does not get better by itself. The infection can last a lifetime and may lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer. Chronic hepatitis C is treated with drugs that slow or stop the virus from damaging the liver. Serious cases may need a liver transplant.
What is Liver Cancer?
Simply stated, liver cancer (also known as primary liver cancer or hepatocellular cancer) is cancer that starts in the liver. Cancers that start elsewhere in the body and spread to the liver are called metastatic cancers, sometimes referred to as secondary liver cancers. For more information on liver cancer, please visit the Liver Cancer Overview on the American Cancer Society’s website.
What is Hemachromatosis?
Hemochromatosisis an inherited condition in which the body absorbs and stores too much iron. The extra iron builds up in several organs including the liver, heart, and pancreas, and can cause serious damage. It can lead to hepatitis, liver failure, liver cancer, or cirrhosis. Treatment is aimed at removing excess iron, preventing its re-accumulation, and treating complications from the iron overload. Treatment is usually a life-long process.
What is Wilson Disease?
Wilson disease is an inherited condition that causes the body to retain excess copper. Excess copper attacks the liver or brain, resulting in hepatitis, psychiatric, or neurologic symptoms. Wilson disease is a very treatable condition. Treatment is aimed at removing excess accumulated copper and preventing its re-accumulation. Treatment for Wilson disease is a life-long process. Patients with severe hepatitis or liver failure may require a liver transplant.
What is Alcohol-Related Liver Disease? If more alcohol is consumed than the liver can process, the resulting imbalance can injure the liver by interfering with its normal breakdown of protein, fats, and carbohydrates. There are three types of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease: Fatty Liver Disease, Alcoholic Hepatitis, and Alcoholic Cirrhosis.
- Fatty Liver Disease: Fatty liver disease is the build-up of extra fat in liver cells. It is the earliest stage of alcohol-related liver disease. There are usually no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they may include fatigue, weakness, and weight loss. Almost all heavy drinkers have fatty liver disease. However, if they stop drinking, fatty liver disease will usually go away.
- Alcoholic Hepatitis: Alcoholic hepatitis causes the liver to swell and become damaged. Symptoms may include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, and jaundice. Up to 35 percent of heavy drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis. Alcoholic hepatitis can be mild or severe. If it is mild, liver damage may be reversed. If it is severe, it may occur suddenly and quickly lead to serious complications including liver failure and death.
- Alcoholic Cirrhosis: Alcoholic cirrhosis is the scarring of the liver -- hard scar tissue replaces soft healthy tissue. It is the most serious type of alcohol-related liver disease. Symptoms of cirrhosis are similar to those of alcoholic hepatitis. Between 10 and 20 percent of heavy drinkers develop cirrhosis. The damage from cirrhosis cannot be reversed and can cause liver failure. Abstaining from alcohol intake can help prevent further damage.
Treatment for alcohol-related liver disease requires a healthy diet including avoiding alcohol and may require participation in an alcohol recovery program. Medications may also be needed to manage the complications caused by damage to the liver. In advanced cases of alcoholic cirrhosis, a liver transplant may be needed.
(Editor’s Note: The above list of diseases is by no means inclusive. Please visit the resources listed below for more information on Liver Disease.)
Resources for Liver Disease:
American Liver Foundation - facilitates, advocates and promotes education, support and research for the prevention, treatment and cure of liver disease.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases - conducts and supports research on many of the most serious diseases affecting public health. The Institute supports much of the clinical research on the diseases of internal medicine and related subspecialty fields, as well as many basic science disciplines.
Wilson Disease Association - a volunteer organization striving to promote the well-being of patients with Wilson disease and their families and friends.
Iron Disorders Institute - aims to inform the public about iron disorders, especially hemochromatosis, iron deficiency with or without anemia, anemia of inflammatory response, dysmetabolic iron overload (DIOS), and iron avidity.