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Know Your Liver: Types Of Liver Problems, Symptoms, and Causes

Written by Reshma Pathare on Fri, 11 November 2022

Key Highlights

  • Known as an organ, the liver is a gland, and that, too, is the largest gland in the human body.
  • It performs more than 500 functions; prime among them being producing bile, making albumin, helping in blood filtration, and, being a frontline immunity warrior.
  • The liver can be damaged by 5 types of problems: genetically inherited problems, immunity-related problems, viral infections, cancers, and other problems such as the fatty liver.
  • Symptoms of the liver being damaged/scarred include jaundice, loss of appetite, nausea, and edema.
  • People consuming excessive alcohol, practicing unsafe sex, staying in unsanitary conditions, or suffering from obesity are at most risk for liver diseases.
  • Liver damage is diagnosed through blood tests, imaging tests, or biopsies.
  • Treatment may include lifestyle changes, medicines, blood transfusion, or liver transplant, depending on the severity of the damage.
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If you've seen the iconic medical show House M.D., then you'd know what the mercurial genius Dr. Gregory House says about the liver: "It helps you live, that's why it's called the liver." And yes, that's exactly what the liver does: it acts as the body's filtering system, processing and breaking down toxins and other materials that need to be secreted through the kidney. It also generates good cholesterol, an essential component of cellular structure.

That's why everyone must get to know their liver, how it works, symptoms of liver disease, types of liver disease, and causes of liver problems. It's only by understanding liver problem signs and their reasons that you can figure out how to make your liver healthy.

First, here's a look at a few liver health facts:

  • The liver is the largest gland (also known as the largest solid organ) in the human body.
  • The common liver-related diseases are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, cirrhosis, liver cancer, liver failure, gall stone, and fatty liver (alcoholic and non-alcoholic). Then there are genetic diseases like Wilson's disease and hemochromatosis.
  • According to research by World Life Expectancy, Egypt ranks the highest in mortality by liver disease, followed closely by Nigeria, where alcohol consumption, Hepatitis B virus infection, smoking, and the use of herbs and roots have been noted as the main causative culprits.
  • Latest studies done in 2021 show that hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a common form of liver cancer, is the 3rd highest cause of death globally, 2nd highest cause of death for men in the sub-Saharan Africa region, and 4th highest cause of death for women of the same region.
  • The prevalence of chronic HBV (hepatitis B virus) infection in East Africa is around 5-7%. The prevalence of HCV (hepatitis C virus) infection in the same region is 1.5-3.5%.
  • Liver disease is also widely prevalent in the Asia-Pacific region, which saw almost 66% of all global deaths from liver diseases in 2015, according to research published in The Lancet in December 2019.
  • The liver is the largest gland (and also the largest solid internal organ) in the human body
  • Most liver disease cases are linked to either alcohol, obesity or viral hepatitis.

What is the liver and how does it work?

The liver is an exceptional organ because it can grow to its full size from a portion as small as 25% of its normal size. This is very important in living-donor liver donation because the donor doesn't have to sacrifice their liver, unlike in a living-donor kidney transplant, where the donor gives up one kidney permanently.

If all other donation criteria are satisfied, the donor can give a portion of their liver, and wait until it grows back. The recipient gets a liver portion that also grows to its full size. In this way, through its power of regeneration, one liver becomes two!

While the liver is mainly credited for its prominent role in digestion, it performs around 500 functions, including filtering the blood.

Situated between the stomach and the lungs, the liver is primarily responsible for producing chemicals to digest the food we eat, carry out protein synthesis, and help in detoxification of the system.

Blood supply to the liver

The liver gets nutrient-rich blood from the digestive system through the portal vein, and it gets oxygenated blood from the heart through the hepatic artery. It holds around 13% of the entire body's blood at any point in time. Three hepatic veins remove blood from the liver.

When the liver cells are damaged for any reason, unless the damage is too severe and irreversible, the organ can repair and regenerate itself through cytokines and growth factors (collectively called "compounds"). The process of regeneration is quite quick — it depends on the amount of healthy liver tissue left — and the regenerated liver continues to function as before.

Some of the compounds that play a significant role in this regeneration process are the hepatocyte growth factor, interleukin-6, norepinephrine, epidermal growth factor, transforming growth factor-alpha, and insulin.

What does the liver do?

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Reshma Pathare

Reshma Kulkarni-Pathare has been a self-employed media professional since 1999. Starting off as a Freelance Journalist for Times of India Thane Plus, Reshma went onto write for more than 45 national and international publications including Times of India, New Woman, Femina, Indian Express, The Hindu, BBC Good Homes and many more. While her forte has been lifestyle writing, she is equally proficient in writing health articles. Her health articles have been published in Health International (Dubai), New Woman, Femina, and Mother & Baby.

Apart from being a journalist, Reshma also works as a copy-editor for self-publishing houses and academic journals.

She is an award-winning bi-lingual translator with more than 12 books published in her name.

She has been a Visiting Faculty Member for post-graduate department of mass media at MET College (Mumbai) and Welingkar WeSchool (Mumbai).

She has worked as a Consumer Marketing Insights Researcher for global organizations like CEB Iconoculture (USA) and Gartner (USA).

Consolidating her multifarious skills in the media, in 2021, Reshma launched her own boutique media agency called Talking Turkey Communications, which specializes in content writing, editing, and translation.

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