The liver performs several important functions in the body, from metabolizing the nutrients, making bile (digestion of fats), clearing up toxins and breaking down alcohol and medicines. Diseases of the liver can significantly impact a person’s overall health.
Some liver diseases are inherited (genetic) while others are acquired by other factors. Chronic liver failure is a serious condition in which the liver fails to perform most of its functions. This can be a life-threatening problem, and the patient may need a liver transplant to survive.
A liver transplant involves replacing the diseased or damaged liver of the patient with a healthy liver from a donor – deceased or living. The liver has a unique ability to regenerate which makes living liver donation possible. A part of a liver from a matching living donor is taken and placed into the recipient’s body.
The parts of the liver, inpatient as well as donor, grow to full size over time and performs all the normal functions. The transplant has not only increased survival but also improved the quality of life of liver failure patients.
It has good success and a patient satisfaction rate. With advancements in organ transplant technology, the liver transplant success rate has increased even more. The transplant can be a life-saving procedure for many people with end-stage liver failure.
Liver damage can be caused by congenital diseases (since birth). Some of these diseases are:
- Biliary atresia: a disorder in which bile ducts haven’t developed normally and do not perform a proper function.
- Haemochromatosis: there is an excess of iron that accumulates in the body, especially in the liver.
- Wilson’s disease: a medical condition in which the copper is not excreted properly, leading to copper accumulation in the liver as well as the brain.
- Gilbert’s syndrome: a condition in which levels of unconjugated bilirubin in the bloodstream are increased.
- Alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency: This is one of the most common genetic liver diseases and a metabolic disorder.
- Glycogen storage diseases: In this disease, there is an excess of glycogen in the body which accumulates in the liver tissue.
There are several other factors that can put a person at risk of liver disease:
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1. Overconsumption of alcohol
Alcoholic fatty liver or alcoholic liver disease is can cause liver inflammation (alcoholic hepatitis), scarring (alcoholic cirrhosis) and even increase the risk of liver cancer. Excess consumption of alcohol – more than four drinks a day for men and two for women is one of the biggest risk factors for this condition.
Once the damage or scarring in the liver reaches the cirrhosis stage, the condition may be beyond repair. But it has been reported that people who stop consuming alcohol at the fatty liver stage, may find their condition improving over time.
2. Lifestyle problems – Obesity, Diabetes or High Cholesterol
These conditions are associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which may also result in cirrhosis and liver cancer. According to the experts, fatty liver disease is the fastest-growing reason behind needing a liver transplant worldwide.
As in the case of alcoholic fatty liver, this condition can be improved at the fatty stage by cutting carbohydrates such as bread and refined sugar. Certain food items – fruits, vegetables and protein as well as drinking lots of coffee can help to prevent this condition.
The risk of liver disease in people with diabetes is high. This is because of insulin resistance causes build up of high levels of insulin in the blood of diabetic patients. This triggers an abdominal weight gain which in turn, causes the liver to store fat, leading to fatty liver disease.
The excess consumptions of salt can lead to high blood pressure. High salt intake causes a fluid build-up in the liver, causing it to swell and result in fatty liver disease.
3. Exposure to Toxins:
Although the liver cleans up the toxins from the blood, overexposure to toxins can cause harm to the liver. Pesticide exposed fruits and vegetables that contain heavy metals that can damage the liver, as the chemicals get stored and metabolized in the liver.
Overuse of over the counter drugs such as painkillers, mood stabilizers, corticosteroids and antidepressants can put more burden on the liver, resulting in damage to the liver cells.
Herbal or nutritional supplements have been associated with liver damage. The overconsumption of certain vitamins can harm the liver. Some medicines or herbs that act on the liver may damage the issue. This may happen because of the overproduction of liver enzymes to metabolize these supplements and medications.
5. Other Liver Diseases
Viral liver hepatitis and autoimmune liver diseases may make the liver more vulnerable to conditions. Hepatitis B or C are infections that increase the risk of liver cancer. Genetic liver conditions, such as hemochromatosis, Wilson disease, or alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency can also lead to severe liver damage.
This may require liver transplant surgery to cure a person who has suffered irreversible damage to the liver. It is advisable to maintain a healthy lifestyle if you are exposed to these liver conditions.