The only organ in the human body to perform around 500 diverse functions is the liver! From aiding in digestion to destroying red blood cells, liver is an extremely high-throughput organ capable of remarkable feats of biological engineering.
Liver performs the important function of detoxification, protein synthesis, hormone production, glycogen storage, cholesterol synthesis and breakdown of insulin, among others. It goes without saying that a disease of the liver can wreak havoc with a person's physical and mental wellbeing.
Diseases of the Liver
More than a 100 different types of diseases can affect the liver, the second largest organ in the human body (the first being the skin). Of them, the most common are:
- Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver caused by viruses, toxins like alcohol, autoimmunity and heredity)
- Alcoholic liver disease (due to overconsumption of alcohol)
- Fatty liver disease
- Liver cancer (most common is hepatocellular carcinoma)
- Primary biliary cirrhosis
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis (inflammatory disease of the bile duct)
Gilbert's syndrome (genetic disorder of bilirubin synthesis)
Symptoms of a Diseased Liver
When the liver is diseased, the symptoms would normally be associated with the varied functions that the liver plays. Some of the problems could be:
- Digestive problems
- Blood sugar problems
- Abnormal absorption of fats
- Problems with general metabolism
- Clotting and bleeding disorders
- Disorders of the immune system
Other symptoms may be more general in nature, like fatigue, weakness, loss of weight, nausea, vomiting and jaundice.
Symptoms may be specific when the particular function is affected. For example, problems in the proper absorption of fats may manifest as symptoms of indigestion, haemorrhoids, abdominal bloating and constipation. Also, symptoms associated with nervous system like depression, poor concentration, mood swings could be observed. Elevated levels of cholesterol may lead to high blood pressure, fatty tumours, etc.
Causes for Liver Diseases
Causes of liver diseases can be varied too. Viruses can cause hepatitis and other infections, parasitic worms cause infestations and bacteria can also cause certain infections which may affect the liver. Toxic substances like alcohol can cause alcoholic liver disease, fatty disease and cirrhosis. Autoimmunity can be a cause of liver diseases like primary sclerosing cholangitis. Cancers may affect various tissues of liver. Genetic susceptibility can cause liver disorders like hemochromatosis and Gilbert's syndrome.
Treatment for Liver Diseases
Treatment of a liver disease will depend very much upon the type of symptoms being presented by the patient. Since these symptoms can also be manifested in disorders of other organs and systems, it is necessary to conclude whether the liver is affected. This is done by performing Liver Function Tests. These tests determine the presence of blood in various enzymes and other proteins produced by the liver.
Alcoholic liver disease and non-alcoholic fatty disease can be best treated by giving up alcohol. Infections of microorganisms can be treated by appropriate anti-microbial agents. Automimmune liver diseases can be controlled using immunosuppressive drugs. In a condition called hemochromatosis, the liver is stressed by an overload of iron. This can be controlled by removing some blood from a vein periodically. There are other drugs and chemicals for the treatment and/or control of other disorders.
Lifestyle changes like proper diet, regular exercise and giving up consumption of toxic chemicals like alcohol and tobacco smoking go a long way in keeping the liver healthy. And oh! Drinking coffee keeps your liver healthy!