Liver disease is any type of damage to the liver that causes it not to function properly. The liver is an organ that helps digest food and remove toxins from the body. There are over 100 types of liver disease. Most forms of liver disease can either be inherited (genetic) or caused by virus or parasite infection, autoimmune diseases, alcohol abuse, or obesity. Damage to the liver can cause scarring (cirrhosis) and this scarring can eventually cause liver failure. Liver failure is very serious and is life-threatening.
There are many symptoms of liver disease. People with liver disease may have skin and eyes that look yellow (jaundice), stomach pain, and swelling in the stomach, legs, or ankles. Their urine is often very dark and they have pale colored or bloody feces. Individuals with liver disease may also have itchy skin, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and may bruise easily.
Risk factors for liver disease include sharing needles, exposure to other people’s blood and body fluids, and unprotected sex, tattoos, and body piercings. Other risk factors include heavy alcohol use, obesity, diabetes, and high levels of triglycerides, a type of fat, in your blood.
To diagnose liver disease, your doctor will ask about your health history. They might also use imaging tests, test your blood, and test tissue samples. Some liver problems may be treated by healthy lifestyle changes. Some people with liver disease may need prescribed medication or surgery. If liver disease results in liver failure, a liver transplant may be necessary. Research is ongoing, so talk with your doctor and specialists about the most current treatment options. Support groups are a good source of information and can help connect you with others living with liver disease.