Diseases & Conditions

Understanding Liver Disease

The liver is an organ that works incredibly hard. In fact, it performs over 500 different functions, all of which are vital to keep you well. From removing waste from our blood to regulating our blood sugar levels, it does a lot to keep us healthy. 

But, if the liver is worked too hard, it can develop its own problems.

The Cause of Liver Problems 

Unfortunately, most people aren’t aware of what can cause damage to their liver. Most cases of liver disease are caused by risk factors that are preventable:

  • Being overweight: This can cause fat to build-up in the liver and lead to fatty liver disease. If not treated, over time, this can cause liver cancer or liver failure. Keeping your weight in a healthy range, eating a balanced diet, and exercising regularly can all help to reduce the risk of liver disease.
  • Viral infections: Things like hepatitis can cause damage to the liver and reduce its function if left untreated. The infection damages the liver and causes scarring (cirrhosis) which, over time, can impair its function and lead to liver failure.
  • Toxins: The liver breaks down toxins, such as alcohol, which produces chemicals which can damage the liver. Over a prolonged period of time, the liver is unable to repair the damage and scarring develops which can lead to liver failure or cancer. The risk is increased in people with other risk factors for liver disease, such as being overweight. 
    There are other things that can cause liver disease that we can’t control: 
  • Autoimmune diseases, in which your immune system attacks your body, can damage the liver.
  • Genetic liver diseases which can cause substances to build up in the liver and cause damage over time.
  • Liver or bile duct cancer.

Symptoms of Liver Disease 

Disorders of liver disease often have no symptoms, so they aren’t diagnosed until permanent damage may have occurred. This in turn increases the risk of liver failure. 

The most common symptoms of liver damage or disease include: 

  • Feeling very tired all the time• A loss of appetite 
  • Itchy skin. 

If liver damage has been prolonged and the liver is beginning to fail, symptoms may include:

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

Preventing Liver Disease

Luckily, there are lots of things you can do to keep your liver healthy and prevent many types of liver disease. These include:

  • Eat a healthy diet: Reduce your intake of processed foods, refined sugars, and refined carbohydrates and increase your intake of fiber, fruit and vegetables. 
  • Increase exercise: Try and do at least 30 minutes exercise, at least 5 times a week.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. 
  • Reduce toxin intake, including avoiding alcohol.

Your liver works hard to keep you healthy. Take care of yourself and you will keep your liver healthy too. 

© 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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