Diseases & Conditions

Liver Disease

The Liver

Your liver is a large organ that sits on the right side under your ribcage. It performs many important functions in your body, such as separating nutrients and waste which pass through the digestive system. It also produces bile, which helps the digestion of food and carries toxins out of your body. 

What is Liver Disease? 

Liver disease refers to conditions that affect and can damage your liver. There are many different types of liver disease, which can be caused by several different things. Over time, liver disease can cause permanent damage to the liver, in the form of scarring (cirrhosis). As scarring builds up, serious complications can develop and the liver struggles to function properly. This can cause liver failure and liver cancer may develop. 
If liver disease is detected early, treatment can be given to heal damage and stop liver failure from happening in the future. 

Causes of Liver Disease 

Viral infections: Diseases such as hepatitis (A, B and C) which are caused by viruses.
Autoimmune diseases: These cause your own immune system to attack your liver.
Genetic diseases: Liver problems can be inherited from your parents. 
Liver cancer: When tumors form in the liver. 
High intake of toxins: Ingesting too many toxins, such as alcohol, can cause liver disease. 
Obesity: Can lead to a build-up of fat in the liver and lead to a condition called fatty liver disease.

Symptoms of Liver Disease

Many types of liver disease, including fatty liver disease, usually have no symptoms. If they are present, symptoms can include:

  • Tiredness 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Itchy skin
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • A change in color of your urine or stool. 

If the liver damage has caused the liver to fail, symptoms may include:

  • Fluid retention (stomach and legs)
  • Yellow skin and white of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Bleeding (in vomit or stools)
  • Confusion, caused by toxins traveling to the brain.

Preventing Liver Disease

Many of the more common types of liver disease are preventable. Lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of developing liver disease, including:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly 
  • Avoiding toxins such as alcohol
  • Avoiding foods that are high in fat 
  • Manage medication that might damage the liver. 

Diagnosing Liver Disease  

There are a variety of techniques available to diagnose liver disease, including:

  • Blood tests: A blood test will measure the level of liver enzymes in the blood or a blood-clotting test can be used to detect problems with liver function.
  • Imaging tests: Ultrasound, MRI, or CT scans can all detect damage, scarring or tumors in the liver. A special type of ultrasound (fibroscan) can accurately determine the amount of scarring and fat level in the liver and reduce the need for invasive biopsies.
  • Liver biopsy: A thin needle is used to remove a sample of liver tissue which will be looked at under a microscope for signs of liver disease.
  • Paracentesis: The fluid from the abdomen that builds-up in patients with liver diseases is collected for testing. 
  • Endoscopic techniques: A minimally invasive procedure in which a thin, flexible tube is inserted into the digestive tract. 

Treatment of Liver Disease 

Treatment for liver disease will depend upon the type of liver disease, how much damage there is, and whether the liver is failing. Treatments include: 

  • Medication: Some types of liver disease (such as viral infections) can be treated successfully with medication. 
  • Lifestyle changes: Adapting your diet can help to manage some types of liver disease. For example, avoiding high fat foods, reducing calorie intake and increasing exercise can all help to manage fatty liver disease.
  • Liver transplant: If the liver has begun to failure, a liver transplant might be the only option.

© Copyright 2017 Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. All rights reserved.

This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, part of Mubadala Healthcare, and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

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