Your liver performs many critical roles in keeping you healthy. It works nonstop to process almost anything that enters your body, including what you eat, drink, and breathe. The liver metabolizes materials that might be dangerous to your health, including alcohol, drugs, and other harmful substances. It also regulates many hormones, vitamins, minerals, and your cholesterol levels. On top of this, your liver is also responsible for regulating your fuel through glucose and the storing of fat. It also aids in digestion through the production of bile. Because your liver handles so many aspects of your overall health, taking care of your liver is essential.
What causes liver disease?
Liver disease can occur because of an infection, due to genetics, or by contributing unhealthy lifestyle habits. It can also be caused by immune system abnormalities. With so many different types of liver disease, the cause for each is specific. Read on for a summary of the most common liver diseases and how they occur.
Liver Disease from infection.
Liver disease from infection is most commonly through the viral infections Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, or Hepatitis C. Contraction of Hepatitis A is most often through ingesting contaminated food or drink. You can also contract it through engaging in unprotected sex with an infected person. Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are most commonly spread through the sharing of blood or bodily fluids. Because of this, they are often contracted through unprotected sex with an infected person, or through sharing needles. All of these infections result in an inflamed liver, impeding its efficiency. There are several medications for treating Hepatitis B and C, though Hepatitis A generally does not need treatment.
Can liver disease be genetic?
There are many genetic liver diseases, but the most common are hemochromatosis and alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. Hemochromatosis causes excess iron to collect in organs including the liver. A diagnosis is based on a blood test, and treated through filtering iron out of blood. Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency is caused when this protein is not able to move from the liver into the bloodstream. Since this enzyme protects the lungs, it results in both respiratory and liver complications. It is diagnosed through a blood test, and can be managed but not cured through medication.
Alcohol and liver disease.
Heavy alcohol consumption can damage your liver over time. When your liver tissue becomes damaged from heavy drinking, the liver repairs itself and forms scar tissue. If this happens too much, cirrhosis or late stage scarring of the liver occurs. Should this be left untreated and your liver continues to scar, cirrhosis can be life threatening.
Liver disease tied to your immune system.
Autoimmune Hepatitis is a disease where your immune system mistakenly attacks your liver. The liver becomes inflamed, and if untreated can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and even liver failure. The most common form of autoimmune hepatitis is often linked to other autoimmune diseases. It occurs most frequently in females aged 15 to 40. Diagnosis is based on a blood test and liver biopsy. This type of disease cannot be cured but treatment to manage the symptoms includes steroids and other medications.
What are the symptoms of liver disease?
Because liver disease doesn’t always have detectable symptoms, it’s important to have your liver health tested. Some of the most common symptoms associated with liver diseases include:
- Yellowing of skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Dark urine and / or pale stool
- Loss of appetite
- Swelling of the legs
- Abdominal swelling and pain
- Nausea and / or vomiting
How can I improve my liver health?
Lifestyle habits that can improve your liver health include:
Because your liver stores fats for energy use, it helps your liver health to exercise on a regular basis. This way, your liver uses up the excess stored fats (triglycerides) for fuel. Exercising regularly also helps keep your overall health and wellness in good shape.
Maintaining a healthy weight.
If your body and liver are storing too much fat, it can cause liver disease. Unfortunately, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is becoming more and more common.
Avoiding harmful chemicals.
Chemicals in cleaning or industrial products can cause liver damage with extensive exposure. Since the liver processes all toxins including those that enter through the skin, lessening exposure is the best way to protect your liver.
Lowering alcohol and drug use.
Because your liver can only process so much alcohol at a time, too much can overwhelm it. With chronic heavy drinking, the liver can become permanently damaged over time. Likewise, since your liver will be processing any drugs, medications, and even nutritional supplements, it is important to monitor your intake of these with your doctor.
Getting your vaccines.
Vaccines exist to protect you against Hepatitis A and B. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C, so the best prevention is caution.
Changing your diet.
You can improve your liver health through adding more liver friendly foods and beverages to your diet. Some of these include:
- Coffee and tea
- Blueberries and cranberries
- Beets or beet juice
- Grapefruits and grapefruit juice
- Brussel sprouts
Monitoring your liver health.
If you or your doctor are concerned about your liver health, you can get a liver panel test. This panel measures various enzymes, proteins, and other markers related to your liver health. This panel is done similar to a routine blood test. You may need to fast for 8-12 hours before your blood test. Before any blood test, your doctor will let you know if you need to fast, and for how long before your test. Click here to learn tips and advice for how to fast before a blood test.
The liver panel.
A liver panel usually consists of at least these tests:
- ALT test: for detecting Hepatitis
- ALP test: for discerning if bile ducts are functioning properly
- AST test: to help detect liver damage
- Albumin test: to check for possibly liver or kidney damage
- TP test: a total protein test, which can include antibodies
- Bilirubin test: to test liver function and give information for possible anemia
Looking at the results from your liver panel, your doctor can discern the health of your liver. They will then provide a diagnosis, and treatment plan. Your doctor may also order further testing to refine or learn more about your liver health.
Your Health Lab.
With over 3,500 tests available, Your Health Lab is built around what you need. From diagnosis to monitoring, our quick turnaround and access to online results makes it easy for you and your doctor to take care of your liver health.