Leveraging Good Habits to Keep Liver Disease Away
Disturbance in the functioning of the liver which results in illness is called liver disease or hepatic disease. The liver performs numerous crucial functions in our system and injury or disease can have an adverse impact on those functions and cause a significant amount of damage to the body.
The term itself- Liver disease covers a very wide spectrum of problems that have the potential to lead to liver failure. This is a very slow progressing condition and typically, over 75% of liver tissue has to be damaged before there is any noticeable decrease in function.
Symptoms of Liver Disease
- Discoloured skin & yellowish-colored eyes
- Abdominal pain & swelling
- Dark urine color
- Itchy skin that persists
- Pale stool color
- Bloody/ tar-colored stool
- Chronic fatigue
- Loss of appetite
Liver- The Wonder Organ
The liver is the body’s largest internal organ and its key functions are:
- Metabolizing most nutrients that the intestine absorb
- Storage of nutrients
- Production of proteins
- Detoxifying the blood by effectively removing alcohol & any potentially-harmful chemicals in the bloodstream
Since the liver is always in very close contact with numerous harmful substances, it has some natural protection. It has regenerative properties and can repair/ replace damaged tissue. It also has a number of cell units that are responsible for the same function. Thus if one segment of the kidney gets damaged, the rest of the cells immediately take over and perform the function that the injured section used to carry out. The few types of liver disorders are:
- Hepatitis- caused by a certain virus, some medication or inherited disorders, drugs or alcohol
- Liver abscess
- Liver tumours
What is Cirrhosis?
Cirrhosis is the complication of various liver diseases and is characterized by abnormal liver-function & structure. The diseases that result in cirrhosis of the liver are the ones that damage and kill the liver cells. Over time, this leads to the formation of scar tissue. The liver cells that have not died, multiply in an attempt to replace the ones that have perished. This forms regenerative nodules or clusters of these new cells in the scar tissue. Cirrhosis can be caused by:
- Certain medications
- Accumulation of toxic metals like copper and iron (due to genetic diseases)
- Autoimmune liver disease
About Liver Function Tests
In the event that an individual displays any of the symptoms of liver disease, some liver function tests will be conducted. These tests help the doctor determine whether the liver is functioning correctly. They measure the levels of enzymes, bilirubin or proteins in the blood and help in determining the health of the liver.
There are a number of tests which can be performed to check its functioning, but majority of them do not measure overall functioning of the liver. The albumin & bilirubin tests are the most commonly-used liver function tests. The albumin test measures the levels at which the liver is forming the protein and a low result indicates that the liver is not functioning at optimum levels.
The bilirubin test measures how well it is disposing this waste product from the blood. This waste product is typically processed by the liver and then excreted through the stool. A damaged liver is unable to process bilirubin properly which results in abnormally-high levels of it in the blood. A high result in this test is an indication that the liver is not functioning correctly.
What Leads to Liver Failure?
If the damage to the liver is not detected in time and major portions of the liver get damaged beyond repair, it leads to liver failure. This condition has to be treated immediately as it is a life-threatening one. It has to be understood that liver failure does not take place overnight. It progresses very slowly and takes a number of years to reach this point. However, acute liver failure, which is quite a rare condition, might manifest over 48 hours and in most cases, initial detection is very difficult.
The liver is a very strong organ and only years of indiscriminate excesses can cause serious damage to it. This simply goes to show that to a large extent, good health is a lot about how we treat our bodies.
Have you taken a liver function test? Even if you don’t drink, it will be helpful to do a liver function test as part of the annual health check. Do you take any supplements to improve liver health? Has it helped? Do share your experience.