October marks National Liver Awareness month. Estimates for the global burden of chronic liver disease range from 50 million to over 100 million affected individuals. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 2000 — 2018 there was a 31% increase in deaths from chronic liver disease. Numerous diseases ranging from liver cancer to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) to hepatitis pose an increasing concern. Almost 33,000 Americans die annually from liver cancer every year, according to the American Liver Foundation.
The liver is the heavyweight champion of our bodies. It’s our second largest organ — and sits right under your rib cage on your right side. Even though your liver weighs only about three pounds, it is the hardest- working organ. The liver functions to cleanse toxins, produce energy, and help your digestion. Bottom line, you must love your liver because it works so hard keeping all the bad stuff out of your blood.
Risk factors leading to cirrhosis include chronic viral hepatitis, obesity, alcoholism, as well as poor lifestyle choices. But there is hope. With early detection, you can double your survival rate.
Liver disease can be inherited (genetic) or caused by a variety of factors that damage the liver, such as viruses and alcohol use. Obesity is also associated with liver damage. Over time, damage to the liver results in scarring (cirrhosis), which can lead to liver failure, a life-threatening condition.
Signs and symptoms of liver disease include:
- Skin and eyes that appear yellowish (jaundice)
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Swelling in the legs and ankles
- Itchy skin
- Dark urine color
- Pale stool color, or bloody or tar-colored stool
- Chronic fatigue
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Tendency to bruise easily
Liver disease has many causes including:
Infection: Parasites and viruses can infect the liver, causing inflammation that reduces liver function. The viruses that cause liver damage can be spread through blood or semen, contaminated food or water, or close contact with a person who is infected. The most common types of liver infection are hepatitis viruses, including:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
Immune system abnormality: Diseases in which your immune system attacks certain parts of your body (autoimmune) can affect your liver. Examples of autoimmune liver diseases include:
- Autoimmune hepatitis
- Primary biliary cirrhosis
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis
Genetics: An abnormal gene inherited from one or both of your parents can cause various substances to build up in your liver, resulting in liver damage. Genetic liver diseases include:
- Hyperoxaluria and oxalosis
- Wilson’s disease
- Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency
Cancer and other growths
- Hepatocellular Carcinoma
- Liver cancer
- Bile duct cancer
- Liver adenoma
Other common causes of liver disease include:
- Chronic alcohol abuse
- Fat accumulating in the liver (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease)
Ways to take care of your liver:
- Watch your weight, eat a balanced diet, and exercise regularly to avoid diseases like Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)
- Eat healthily from all food groups, including fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads, rice and cereals. Limit fats.
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. (Alcohol can damage or destroy liver cells.)
- Manage your medications. Pay attention to warnings that say that a medication can damage the liver.
- Avoid breathing in or touching toxins, such as cleaning and aerosol products, insecticides, and chemicals.
- Do not smoke.
If you think you have any symptoms of liver disease or have persistent signs or symptoms that worry you, make an appointment with the doctors at Hunterdon Gastroenterology Associates today by calling 908-483-4000.
National Today, 2019. https://nationaltoday.com/national-liver-awareness-month/
Taconic. Liver Awareness Month. https://www.taconic.com/taconic-insights/oncology-immuno-oncology/liver-awareness-month.html