Knowing the Symptoms of Liver Disease
Knowing how to recognize the symptoms of liver disease can save your life. As with so many illnesses and diseases, liver disease, if spotted early enough, can be arrested, and cured (providing the causes have been identified and are avoided in future), and your liver can fully recover, growing new healthy tissue to replace any that has been damaged, just as long as the disease has not been allowed to progress too far – hence the importance of knowing what the warning signs to look out for.
An organ and a gland
Your liver is the largest internal organ (and also the largest internal gland) that you have in your body. In a healthy adult, a normal liver will weigh somewhere between 3 to 3.5 pounds and it plays a crucial role in a number of body system functions.
The functions of the liver
The key functions of the liver are to detoxify your blood, and to enhance your digestive system by creating bile, which helps to break down the fats that you consume into small pieces, making them easier for your small intestine to absorb. But that’s not all. Here is a quick summary of what your liver does for you:
- It detoxes your blood, filtering out any harmful and unwanted substances like drugs and alcohol
- It produces bile to aid digestion
- It stores some of your body’s vitamins and iron
- It stores glucose
- It converts glucose into sugar that the body can use when the body’s sugar levels become depleted
- It processes haemoglobin, insulin and a variety of other hormones
- It converts ammonia into urea; an essential ingredient for healthy metabolism
- It eliminates old red blood cells, which produces faecal matter which is normally brown in color. This is why when your stools are discolored (i.e. not brown) it can be an indication there is something wrong with your liver function.
Without a healthy liver, any holistic health lifestyle will become severely compromised, and depending on the nature and severity of disease, could prove fatal; which is why it’s so important to be able to detect and interpret the early symptoms of liver disease.
Liver disease is also sometimes referred to as hepatic disease. When any type of hepatic disease affects up to three quarters of your liver tissue, that’s when a significantly increase in liver function can be detected.
The causes of liver disease
Liver disease can be brought about in a number of different ways.
- Its cells may be inflamed, as with hepatitis
- The passage of bile may become obstructed, as in cholestasis
- A build-up of cholesterol may occur
- The flow of blood to the liver can be damaged
- The tissue of the liver may be attacked and damaged by toxins
Alcohol abuse and cirrhosis of the liver
The most common cause of liver disease in North America is alcohol abuse. The final stage of liver disease (when the liver sustains severe scarring and cannot regenerate replacement tissue), is known as cirrhosis of the liver, and this is responsible for approximately 25,000 deaths per annum here in North America.
The classic symptoms of liver disease
The most frequent and common symptoms of liver disease include:
- Bad breath
- Black circles beneath the eyes
- Bad body odor
- Brown blemishes on the skin
- Coated tongue
- Discolored stools
- Flushed facial appearance
- Inflamed palms and soles of feet
- Swollen eyeballs
- Jaundice-the yellowing of the skin which can often also be evidenced in the whites of the eyes
- Pain – which is felt in the uppermost right hand quadrant of the abdomen
- Increased tendency to perspire excessively
Some people also suffer from fatigue and weight loss.
These symptoms of liver disease relate to hepatic disease in general. But there are also many different, specific, illnesses or diseases that affect the liver, and each of these has its own specific symptoms.
The symptoms of liver disease that are associated with gallstones, include pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen; vomiting, (having eaten a fatty or greasy meal); and if the gallbladder itself becomes infected, this may also bring about a fever.
Cirrhosis of the liver
As hepatic disease progresses and reaches the stage of cirrhosis, the following symptoms of liver disease may often appear.
- A tendency to bruise more easily. This is because the liver is no longer able to efficiently clot the blood
- Itchiness. The result of bile salts being deposited in the skin can cause itching
- Enlarged male breasts. This is a condition known as gynecomatia and can be brought about by upsetting the balance of sex hormones, and an increase in the hormone estradiol in particular.
- Erectile dysfunction. The upsetting of the balance of sex hormones can also bring about a reduction in sex drive and cause the testicles to shrink.
- Feeling confused. Feelings of confusion can arise when the levels of ammonia in the bloodstream become too high. This ammonia is normally removed from the bloodstream by a healthy liver, but when liver health is compromised, the sufferer may experience feelings of confusion.
- Feelings of lethargy. This is also potentially brought about by the increase in blood ammonia.
- Decrease in muscle tissue. A compromised liver will also reduce its production of proteins, and this can lead to the wasting of muscle.
- Swollen stomach veins. Because blood pressure becomes increased with a cirrhotic liver, the blood flow to that liver receives can become compromised. This may result in a swelling to the veins around the stomach area.
The unusual metabolism of fats
Another of the prime symptoms of liver disease is the abnormal metabolism of fats, which can manifest itself in the following ways:
- Elevated levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, at the same time as decreased levels of HDL cholesterol.
- Hypertension or blood pressure caused by your blood vessels becoming blocked by fatty deposits. This can also potentially lead to stroke and heart attack.
- Fatty tumors and lymphomas developing in the skin
- Significant weight gain that could lead to obesity
- Difficulty in losing weight, even though you may be dieting
- A sluggishly slow metabolism
- Bloated stomach
- The appearance of cellulite
- Developing a roll of fat around the upper abdomen your own armchair.
Symptoms to look for with your digestive system
The symptoms of liver disease can also be seen in relation to the digestive system and can include things like:
- Indigestion and/or reflux
- The inability to tolerate alcohol
- The inability to tolerate fatty food
- Irritable bowel syndrome
Symptoms relating to blood sugar levels
The symptoms of liver damage that relate to blood sugar include things like:
- Developing a craving for sweets things
- Unstable levels of sugar in the blood, also known as hypoglycaemia
- The onset, in later life, of type II diabetes
Symptoms relating to your immune system
Poor liver health can also affect your immune system in which case the symptoms of liver disease to watch out for include:
- Developing new, allergies such as asthma, hay fever, and hives
- excessive itching
- Developing skin rashes
- An increased incidence of autoimmune disease
- Developing fibromyalgia
- An increase in the incidence of viral and bacterial infections
Spot the symptoms of liver damage and give your liver the chance to recover
The health of your liver, is not only crucial for a continued holistic health lifestyle, but is essential for any type of healthy lifestyle. The power of the liver to heal itself from many diseases brought about by alcoholic or non-alcoholic fatty liver is quite amazing; provided that the disease is spotted early; so knowing what the potential symptoms of liver disease are, as discussed above, and keeping a watchful eye out for them is absolutely crucial.