The liver is the second-largest organ in the body behind the skin. It helps the body digest food, store energy, and filter out toxins.
Liver disease can occur due to many possible sources – basically, any condition that can damage the liver can cause or contribute to liver disease. Hepatitis A, B, and C are common causes. Heavy drinking and drug use are common causes of fatty liver disease (a buildup of fat in the liver) and cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver. Genetics can predispose a person toward hemochromatosis (iron overload) and Wilson’s disease (copper overload), both of which can poison the liver.
Acute liver failure is sudden loss of functioning of the liver. It can be caused by an acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdose – either from one very large dose, or higher-than-recommended doses for several days in a row. Certain prescription medication like antibiotics, NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), and even herbal supplements like kava can result in acute liver failure. Viruses like hepatitis, toxins like poisonous mushrooms and various household chemicals also are highly toxic to the liver and can cause acute failure. Cancer and blood poisoning (sepsis) can also cause the liver to fail if left untreated.
Liver Disease: What to Expect
Signs and symptoms of liver damage include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), pain in the upper right abdomen, nausea, vomiting, and generally feeling unwell.
Liver damage can result in complications such as fluid buildup in the brain, bleeding disorders, kidney failure, and an increased risk of blood infections.
Fortunately, a person can live with part of their liver removed. If some portion has become damaged and ceases to function, it can be surgically removed, leaving the healthy portion of the liver intact and functioning. The remaining liver will regenerate and ultimately return to its original size.
If a liver transplant becomes necessary, getting on a list to receive a liver from a deceased donor is critical. Many factors determine the longevity of people receiving a liver transplant such as age, weight, overall health, cause of liver failure, and whether any secondary organ damage has occurred.
If you have liver problems or have undergone surgery on your liver, then you know that regular checkups with your GI doctor is critical to being able to live a full and healthy life. Avoiding certain foods, alcohol, smoking, and many other things are simply lifestyle choices will help you live a full life after a liver surgery or transplant.
Preventing Liver Damage
Follow all medication directions, especially when taking Tylenol. Drink alcohol in moderation or avoid it altogether. Risky behavior like intravenous drug use or unprotected sex can lead to many health conditions that can affect the liver. Avoid sharing razor blades or toothbrushes, which can transmit viral infections like hepatitis, a common cause of liver disease.
The doctors at Austin Gastroenterology have years of experience with liver problems and post-transplant patients. Contact them today to schedule your appointment by calling the location nearest you or use the request an appointment form.