Liver Disease

Blog > Liver Disease

09 May 2019


What are the different types of liver disease?

The liver is the body’s second largest organ. It helps the body to stay healthy by fighting infections, removing waste from the blood, turning food and drink into energy and producing enzymes and proteins that clot your blood and repair damaged tissue.

That’s why it is so important to make sure your liver is healthy and free from disease. Read our blog your liver and you - why it’s vital to maintain a healthy relationship to see how you can keep it as healthy as possible.

Liver disease is a term that covers different types of conditions of the liver. Some examples are:

  • Alcohol-related liver disease
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Hepatitis
  • Haemochromatosis
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis

Each of these have various causes and effects on the body, but all cause damage to the liver and cause it to become scarred. This is known as liver cirrhosis.

There is also cancer of the liver, which we talk about more in this blog: Liver Cancer

What are the effects on the body?

Damage to the liver can affect its normal functioning and produce numerous symptoms. Each type of liver disease has its own signs and symptoms, but you should visit your GP if you notice any of the following:

  • Jaundice. A yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
  • Pain and swelling in your tummy
  • Swelling in your legs and ankles – this is caused by a build up in fluids
  • Itchy skin
  • Urine that is dark in colour
  • Blood in your stools or a dark/tar like stool
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tendency to bruise or bleed easily

These symptoms may indicate that the liver isn’t removing waste from the body properly or functioning as it should. Any type of liver disease prevents it from working properly, causing scar tissue to form and even liver failure which can prove to be fatal. However, the condition can take years to reach this stage and treatment is aimed at slowing its progression.

What are the causes of liver disease?

There are many causes of liver disease, which can lead to persistent life-changing symptoms. Here we have broken down the causes for each specific liver disease:

  • Alcohol-related liver disease

Excessive drinking over a long period of time causes damage to the liver and cirrhosis. Regularly drinking more than a pint or two of beer, or a couple of glasses of wine each day, increases your risk of damaging your liver. Drinking alcohol excessively can also lead to liver cancer and can increase damage from hepatitis B and C viruses.

  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

This is more likely if you are overweight or obese and don’t exercise. Fatty deposits form on your liver and cause inflammation and damage to the organ. Being obese can also speed up the damage caused by alcohol-related liver disease.

  • Hepatitis

Hepatitis A, B, and C – these are viruses that cause inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis can be spread through blood, semen, contaminated water or food and close contact with an already-infected person e.g. sharing personal care items. Unprotected sex or injection of drugs are both causes of hepatitis.

  • Haemochromatosis

This condition is inherited. Iron levels in the body slowly build up over many years and, if not treated, it can affect the liver, joints, pancreas and your heart. Symptoms of haemochromatosis usually start between the ages of 30 and 60 and it is commonly seen in people with a Celtic background.

  • Primary biliary cirrhosis

This is an autoimmune liver disease. These are illnesses which cause the immune system to attack specific areas of the body. In a healthy liver, bile is produced inside the organ and passes out through small tubes known as bile ducts. Primary biliary cirrhosis is when the immune system attacks the bile ducts and damages them, causing bile to build up in the liver leading to cirrhosis.

Try our 8 Tips for keeping your liver healthy

Treatments and relief

Once you have received a diagnosis of liver disease you can begin treatment. This will differ between the types of liver disease.

Treatments for alcohol-related liver disease

  • Stop drinking alcohol altogether or reduce your intake
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet
  • Taking corticosteroids may help to reduce inflammation of the liver. However, medical experts have argued they have limited effectiveness
  • In extreme cases, if the liver fails, a transplant may be the only possible treatment

Treatments for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

There isn’t a specific medication available for this type of liver disease. People that are diagnosed with it are recommended the following treatments:

  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle – a balanced diet and regular exercise
  • Seek treatment for any associated conditions e.g. diabetes, high cholesterol or blood pressure
  • Phlebotomy. This is a procedure which removes a portion of your blood. It must be carried out initially on a weekly basis, before dropping down to every few months after your iron levels fall to more typical levels
  • Chelation therapy. This is medication designed to minimise iron levels in your system. It’s considered a last resort if phlebotomy is not an option.
  • Ursodeoxycholic acid. This can be taken to delay liver damage and is particularly effective for those who are diagnosed in the early stages of the condition
  • Obeticholic acid. This newer treatment works to improve bile flow and minimise liver inflammation
  • Colestyramine. This medication is commonly prescribed to sufferers with severe itching (of the skin) side effects
  • Liver transplant. This is for the most extreme cases where liver damage may prove fatal

Treatments for haemochromatosis

  • Phlebotomy. This is a procedure which removes a portion of your blood. It must be carried out initially on a weekly basis, before dropping down to every few months after your iron levels fall to more typical levels
  • Chelation therapy. This is medication designed to minimise iron levels in your system. It’s considered a last resort if phlebotomy is not an option.

Treatments for primary biliary cholangitis

The information in this article is intended as general advice only. If you or your family members require medical advice or have any medical concerns, please contact your GP.

Please note that not all conditions discussed above are covered by every CS Healthcare plan. For more information on what is covered please visit our FAQ page or speak to one of our friendly sales advisers on 0800 917 4325^

Sources

NHS

British Liver Trust

British Liver Trust (2)

British Liver Trust (3)

Mayo Clinic

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