Your liver performs many crucial functions such as getting rid of toxins in the body and processing nutrients. When the liver fails to function properly, your health can be severely compromised.
“Liver disease” is a term used to describe a condition that can prevent your liver from working well. Such conditions damage your liver and with time can cause scarring. This is called cirrhosis. The accumulating scar tissue replaces the healthy tissue in the liver and affects its functioning. If left unchecked, this can progress to liver failure which can require a liver transplant.
There can be multiple causes of liver disease. We have discussed some of these below:
1. Viral Infections
Infections caused by hepatitis viruses lead to liver inflammation and impact its functioning. Hepatitis A, B, and C are some of the common viruses that can damage your liver. These infections usually spread through contaminated food, sharing of needles, and sexual contact. Though vaccinations exist for Hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C. But, by practicing safe sex and getting vaccinated, you can protect yourself against such infections.
2. Immune Disorders
Certain autoimmune conditions can also cause liver disease. These include:
Autoimmune hepatitis: It is a type of liver inflammation that occurs when the immune system begins to attack the liver cells. The exact cause of this condition remains unclear. But, several genetic and environmental factors are thought to interact over time to trigger the disease.
Primary sclerosing cholangitis: The disease causes scars in the bile ducts that can narrow them and gradually lead to liver damage. Though the disease progresses slowly, it has the potential to cause tumors in the liver, repeated infections, and liver failure. Advanced primary sclerosing cholangitis can only be resolved with a liver transplant.
3. Inherited Conditions
If you have a family history of a particular liver disease that is heritable, then you may also be at risk of getting it. Such conditions include:
Hemochromatosis: It occurs when your body absorbs too much iron from your food. The extra iron is then stored in organs like the liver and pancreas. Over time, this can lead to liver disease, diabetes, and heart conditions.
Wilson’s disease: This is a rare disorder that leads to the build-up of copper to life-threatening levels in vital organs like the liver and brain. The disease is treatable if diagnosed early. It is usually diagnosed in people between 5-35 years of age.
Deficiency of Alpha-1 antitrypsin: This protein protects the lungs and is synthesized by your liver. If the protein is not produced properly, it accumulates in the liver and doesn’t reach the lungs. This can increase your chances of liver and lung disease.
The uncontrollable division of cells in your liver leads to tumors that can be benign or cancerous. Chronic infection with Hepatitis C and Hepatitis B is a major risk factor for liver cancer globally.
5. Other causes
- Excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to liver cirrhosis.
- Accumulation of fat in your liver can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This causes liver inflammation and can progress to cirrhosis.
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Going through this list may make it seem like most of these factors are out of our control. But, not all is doom and gloom. Some of the risk factors can be controlled with a healthy lifestyle. By knowing the causes of liver disease, we can actually try to make changes in our lives that will protect our liver from such conditions. A well-trained hepatologist may catch the disease early on and prevent its progression.
Though several factors could lead to liver disease, the most common reasons for it include alcohol and infections with hepatitis viruses.
Cirrhosis is the late stage of liver disease. It occurs because of liver damage caused by alcohol abuse or infections with hepatitis viruses.
No, hepatitis B and C are not spread via casual contact like touching and talking to others. However, they can be spread through sharing of needles and sexual contact.
There are several factors that could lead to a fatty liver and alcohol is only of them. Other causes of fatty liver include high sugar and high-fat diet.
Generally, poor nutrition has not been associated with liver disease. Although, liver disease can lead to poor nutrition.