This month is all about the liver! We will discuss what your liver does for your body and look at some of the most common medical conditions that can impact how well your liver does its job.
Your liver is an important part of how your body functions. It creates nutrients, regulates levels of certain chemicals in your blood, and cleans bacteria out of your blood. The liver also helps to process medicine like Tylenol so it can get into your system. Because your liver does so much to keep you healthy, it is also at risk for several kinds of diseases.
Fatty Liver Disease
One of the most common liver diseases is Fatty Liver Disease (FLD). This occurs when too much fat builds up in your liver. The buildup can cause inflammation in the liver, and that can lead to scarring or damage to your liver tissue. When scarring happens on your liver, it can’t work as well.
Fatty Liver disease has four stages:
- Stage One: Simple Fatty Liver
- A build-up of excess fat in the liver
- Can be harmless if it doesn’t progress and worsen
- Stage Two: Steatohepatitis
- A build-up of excess fat in the liver
- Inflammation of the liver begins
- Stage Three: Fibrosis
- Persistent inflammation has led to scarring
- The liver can still function
- Stage Four: Cirrhosis
- Scarring of the liver has become widespread
- Scarring of the liver has decreased the liver’s function
- Most severe stage, and is irreversible
- Can lead to liver failure
The early stages of Fatty Liver Disease usually don’t have any symptoms. This is because the early stages don’t impact how your liver functions. Once symptoms start showing in the cirrhosis stage, your liver has taken a lot of damage that can’t be undone. This makes it important to get your annual physical, where your provider will test your liver function with a routine blood test.
Symptoms to watch, includes:
- Abdominal pain
- Unexpected weight loss
- Easy bruising
- Loss of appetite
- Weakness or fatigue
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes
- Leg swelling
There are two kinds of Fatty Liver Disease, alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease is caused by drinking large amounts of alcohol, which causes fat buildup in the liver and scarring of the liver tissue. Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease is when the same fat buildup happens but is not caused by excessive drinking.
Common Causes of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease:
- Insulin Resistance
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Hepatitis C
Other risk factors include older age, pregnancy, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), sleep apnea, or a family history of liver disease.
Thankfully, fatty liver disease is treatable. The damage to your liver can even be reversed if you catch it in the early stages. FLD can be treated with simple lifestyle changes. Whether you have alcoholic or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, it is important to limit or avoid alcohol altogether. You’ll also want to avoid acetaminophen (Tylenol), which can cause damage to your liver.
Healthy weight loss is another key to treating your fatty liver disease, improving your liver function, and repairing the damage. One way to support this weight loss is with diet changes that will also help treat FLD. Certain diets can benefit liver health, such as the Mediterranean diet. The focus is to increase fiber and certain fruits and vegetables, and limit carbohydrates.
Another common liver disease is Hepatitis. This condition is defined as inflammation of the liver. When hepatitis is caused by a virus, it is referred to as viral hepatitis. Hepatitis can be broken down into five different types.
- Hepatitis A: usually spread through contact with contaminated food or water. Can be treated and recovered from.
- Hepatitis B: a viral form of hepatitis, spread through bodily fluids. Cannot be cured but can be treated.
- Hepatitis C: often spread through contact with the blood of someone who has hepatitis C. Symptoms are rare, but it can cause severe liver damage if untreated.
- Hepatitis D: this only develops in people who have hepatitis B. It is a serious form of hepatitis.
- Hepatitis E: often caused by drinking contaminated water, and usually clears up on its own.
Hepatitis is usually viral and contagious, but there are many steps you can take to protect yourself. There are vaccines for Hepatitis A and B that you can receive. Other preventative steps, such as practicing safe sex and not sharing needles, can reduce your risk. Hepatitis can be diagnosed in several ways. The most common way is to run a simple blood test that can screen for multiple forms of hepatitis.
The final form of liver disease we will discuss is liver cancer. Liver cancer can begin in the liver or can begin in another organ and spread to the liver. The most common form of liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).
HCC occurs most in people with chronic liver diseases. People who have scarring on their liver, from infections or conditions like hepatitis B or C, are also at a higher risk of developing liver cancer, as well as those who drink heavily.
Symptoms of liver cancer are like the symptoms of other liver diseases. These include loss of appetite and losing weight without trying, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, weakness, fatigue, and yellowing of the skin or eyes.
Liver cancer risk factors include:
- Chronic infection with hepatitis B (HBV) or hepatitis C (HCV)
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Excessive alcohol consumption
Thankfully, it is relatively simple to manage your risk factors. You can be vaccinated against hepatitis B, and hepatitis C can be prevented by practicing safe sex and avoiding sharing needles. It is also important to seek treatment for these diseases.
Other preventative steps you can take include maintaining a healthy weight, and only drinking alcohol in moderation, if at all. Your EPIC provider can help you with all these steps and can provide you with a liver cancer screening.
Your liver plays a key role in your health and wellness. Keeping it healthy is key to keeping yourself healthy. While your liver is susceptible to a variety of illnesses, you have the power to prevent them from damaging your liver. If you aren’t sure where to start, talk to your provider. EPIC can help screen you for these conditions and support your journey to live healthier.
If you aren’t sure where to start, talk to your provider today! Schedule an appointment at EPIC Health and get yourself screened for different liver conditions. At EPIC, we offer complete support to help you live healthier.