World Hepatitis Day: Signs And Symptoms Of Liver Damage
The liver is the largest solid organ in the body, weighing around 1.5 kg. The liver performs a large number of important functions, including the manufacture of essential proteins, metabolism of fats and carbohydrates.The liver also serves to remove harmful biochemical waste products and detoxify alcohol, certain drugs, and environmental toxins. The liver forms and secretes important juice called “Bile”, which helps in digestion. Bile contains bile acids to aid in the digestion and intestinal absorption of fats and many vitamins.
Causes of Liver Diseases
Diseases that may affect the liver include hepatitis (infection of the liver), liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), fatty liver (accumulation of fat in the liver), and liver cancer. Most common causes of hepatitis are infection due to viruses like hepatitis A virus, hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus, and hepatitis E virus. A common cause of liver cirrhosis is excessive alcohol consumption, untreated hepatitis B and C virus infection. Accumulation of fat in the liver due to obesity can also cause liver cirrhosis in the long-term. Few medications and herbal supplements can also cause liver damage. Since the liver has a strong capacity to function, signs and symptoms of liver damage may not appear until a major part of the liver gets damaged. Many patients with liver damage may seem to look totally normal without any signs or symptoms at an early stage.
Signs and Symptoms of Liver Damage
Early signs of liver damage often include abdominal complaints that are commonly associated with many other conditions. In many cases, early liver damage signs and symptoms are not noticeable.
General signs and symptoms of liver damage are:
Signs and Symptoms that are more specific to liver damage are:
- Yellowing of skin and eyes (Jaundice)
- Dark-coloured urine
- Easy Bleeding and bruising
- Experiencing stronger side effects of few medicines
Liver Damage may cause an increased amount of toxins called ammonia in blood which is normally filtered out by the liver.
Accumulated ammonia acts on the brain, leading to the following symptoms:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Alteration in the sleep cycle
- Decreased mental function, severe mental confusion, and coma.
- Increased risk of infections due to weakened immunity
- New-onset diabetes or worsening of diabetes
- Problems related with kidney function.
- Brittle bones and bone loss
- Severe jaundice
- Intractable itching
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- Muscle loss and muscle weakness (Sarcopenia)
The consequence of liver damage can be serious and life-threatening in many ways. Portal hypertension (i.e. high blood pressure in the blood vessels leading into the liver from the digestive system) is a serious complication. This condition can damage blood vessels in other parts of the digestive system, causing the vessels to enlarge, weaken, and leak. These enlarged leaky blood vessels are called “varices”. If these abnormal vessels rupture and start bleeding; the patient will start vomiting blood. These patients need an urgent endoscopic procedure to stop this bleeding. Portal hypertension also can cause painful swelling in the abdomen due to the accumulation of fluid which is called “ascites”. This swelling can hinder breathing and lead to abdominal infection. Patients with liver damage are also at higher risk of liver cancer and there may not be new symptoms suggestive of the onset of cancer.
Treatment for Liver Cancer
Treatment for liver damage depends on its cause. Some liver problems can be treated with lifestyle modifications, such as stopping alcohol use or weight loss. There are a few other liver problems that can be treated with medications or surgery. If a person is suffering from liver cirrhosis, he or she may ultimately require liver transplantation.
Dr Sunil Shenvi is Consultant Surgeon- HPB and Multi-Organ Transplant at BGS Gleneagles Global Hospital, Bangalore.