Cirrhosis is currently the 11th most common cause of death globally and liver cancer is the 16th leading cause of death. Combined, they account for 3.5% of all deaths worldwide. Liver disease is the tenth most common cause of death in India as per the World Health Organization. Liver disease may affect every one in 5 Indians. Chung says, “The liver can be a very forgiving organ, but it has its limits.”
The liver is an important organ that performs hundreds of tasks related to metabolism, energy storage, and detoxification of waste. It helps you digest food, convert it to energy, and store the energy until you need it. It helps in the filtration of toxic materials out of the bloodstream. Liver disease is a general term that refers to any condition affecting liver. These conditions may develop for different reasons, but they can all damage the liver and impact its function. Some of the common liver problems are:
Hepatitis: Viral infection of liver. It causes inflammation and liver damage, making it difficult for the liver to function normally. There are five types of Hepatitis, all are contagious. But we can reduce our risk by getting vaccinated for types A and B or by taking other preventive steps. Hepatitis A is typically spread through contact with contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B spreads through bodily fluids, such as blood and semen. Hepatitis C spreads through contact with blood from someone with hepatitis C. Hepatitis D is a serious form of Hepatitis that only develops in people with Hepatitis B. Hepatitis E is usually caused by drinking contaminated water.
Fatty Liver Disease: Build-up of fat in the liver. Fatty liver disease is mainly of two types: alcoholic fatty liver, which is caused by heavy alcohol consumption, and non-alcoholic fatty liver, which is caused by other factors that experts are still trying to understand. If proper steps aren’t taken in time, both types of fatty liver can cause liver damage, leading to cirrhosis and liver failure.
Autoimmune conditions: This involves the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy cells in the body. Autoimmune hepatitis is a condition that causes the immune system to attack the liver, resulting in inflammation.
Primary Biliary cirrhosis (PBC): This results in damage to the bile ducts in the liver, causing a build-up of bile. Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis: This inflammatory condition causes gradual damage to the bile ducts. The ducts eventually become blocked, causing bile to build up in the liver.
If these autoimmune diseases are left untreated, they gradually lead to liver failure and liver cirrhosis.
Genetic conditions: Several genetic conditions, which you inherit from one of your parents, can also affect your liver. Hemochromatosis causes your body to store more iron than it needs. This iron remains in your organs, including your liver, and can lead to damage over a long period of time if not managed. Wilson’s Disease causes your liver to absorb copper instead of releasing it into your bile ducts. Eventually, your liver may become too damaged to store more copper, allowing it to travel through your bloodstream and damage other parts of your body, including your brain. Alpha-1 antitrypsin (AT) deficiency occurs when your liver can’t make enough alpha-1 antitrypsin, a protein that helps prevent enzyme breakdowns throughout your body. This condition can cause lung disease as well as liver disease. There’s no cure, but treatment can help.
Cancer: The most common type of liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma. It tends to develop as several small spots of cancer in your liver, though it can also start as a single tumour. Complications of other liver diseases, especially those that aren’t treated, may contribute to the development of liver cancer. Cirrhosis refers to scarring that results from liver diseases and other causes of liver damage, such as alcohol use disorder. Cystic fibrosis and Syphilis may also lead to liver damage and, eventually, cirrhosis.
Your liver can regenerate in response to damage, but this process usually results in the development of scar tissue. The more scar tissue that develops, the harder it is for your liver to function properly. In its early stages, cirrhosis is often treatable by addressing the underlying cause. But if left unmanaged, it can lead to other complications and become life-threatening.
Chronic liver failure typically happens when a significant part of your liver is damaged and can’t function properly. Generally, liver failure related to liver disease and cirrhosis happens slowly. You may not have any symptoms at first. But over time, you might start to notice jaundice, diarrhoea, confusion, fatigue, weakness and nausea. It’s a serious condition that requires ongoing management. Acute liver failure, on the other hand, happens suddenly, often in response to an overdose or poisoning.
Drinking too much alcohol.
Having viral hepatitis. Not everyone with chronic hepatitis will develop cirrhosis, but it’s one of the leading causes of liver disease.
Congenital liver diseases can’t be prevented as they are present from birth. All that can be done is to treat symptoms as they arise. But much can be done to prevent liver disease that is the result of a viral infection, alcohol and drug abuse, and diet choices.
Maintain a Hygienic and Positive Lifestyle. Start eating healthy. One of the best ways to give your liver a healthy life is by opting for a balanced and a healthy diet. Making small changes in your eating pattern, like starting your day right by eating a healthy breakfast, avoiding too much processed or junk foods, detoxifying your system by taking a lot of fluids, reducing salt and fat intake, having plenty of fruits and veggies in your diet, are some of the changes which will make your liver healthy. Weight loss is recommended for better health of liver.
Drink coffee. Research shows that it can lower your risk of getting liver disease.
Maintain excellent hygiene. Good hygiene habits will go a long way in preventing hepatitis A, as the virus is spread by coming into contact with infected faeces. It’s essential to wash your hands after going to the toilet, and after changing a baby’s nappy. You also need to wash your hands before working with food. And remember to boil your drinking water if you’re not sure that it’s clean.
Don’t drink too much alcohol. Avoid drugs such as heroin, cocaine and inhalants, which can cause severe liver injury and should be avoided at all costs. Quit smoking. It is as dangerous as alcohol. If you are already suffering from any liver disease, smoking can worsen the condition.
Regular exercise lowers the chance of fat accumulation around the liver. Exercise will also help you to reduce weight.
You catch Hepatitis A from eating or drinking water that’s got the virus. To cut your risk, don’t share items like toothbrushes, razors, or needles. Limit the number of sex partners you have, and always use condoms. It’s advisable for people who are sexually active to be vaccinated against Hepatitis B. If you’re a known Hepatitis B carrier, all family and household members need to be vaccinated against the virus. Get tested for viral Hepatitis, because it often doesn’t cause symptoms; you can have it for years and not know it. If you think you’ve had contact with the virus, talk to your doctor to see if you need a blood test. Avoid medicine overdose. Many drugs can affect the way the liver functions, damage it, or do both. Some drugs, such as statins (used to treat high cholesterol levels), can increase the levels of liver enzymes and cause liver damage (usually minor) but no symptoms. Hundreds of herbs contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which may damage the liver. The hepatic veins may become clogged, blocking blood flow out of the liver. Affected people have abdominal pain and may vomit. Fluid accumulates in the abdomen and legs. Eventually, scar tissue in the liver (cirrhosis), liver failure, and even death may result. Paracetamol is the most frequently used over-the-counter painkiller, and paracetamol overdose is the most common cause of liver failure and chronic liver damage. It’s essential to stick to the recommended dosages for this medication, and not to take any medication without consulting your doctor. Medication and alcohol should never be mixed. Never take medicines with alcohol as it can cause even death.
People must be aware about liver diseases and their prevention. Health camps must be held in Kashmir to provide medical assistance to patients of liver diseases. The government must pay heed towards establishing more infrastructure for treatment of liver diseases. The government must also build enough public gyms and parks in rural areas to make people develop the habit of daily exercise.
May Allah bless us all with good health.
—The writer is an MBBS student at Community Based Medical College, Bangladesh. [email protected]