What Does the Liver Do?
It is safe to say that the liver is considered one of the most important organs in the body because of the many functions it does in keeping the body operating at 100 percent. So, when the liver is experiencing conditions of continuous damage, like alcoholism, there are numerous signs that there is a problem.
The liver is a football shaped organ that sits just under the right side of the rib cage. The liver is essential for digesting food, ridding the body of toxic substances, processing and storage of iron for red blood cell production, and converting waste into urea.
14 Signs of Liver Damage
On a day-to-day basis, the liver is in constantly repairing itself due to the fact that it deals with the body’s waste products. However, alcoholism or substance abuse can cause stress on the liver and hinder its normal bodily functions.
Here are 14 signs that the liver is damaged and struggling to keep up with the body:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin & eyes)
- Bursts of abdominal pain and swelling
- Abnormal swelling in the legs and ankles
- Dark yellow urine
- Pale stool color
- Blood in stool
- Tar-colored stool
- Chronic fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Bruise easily with slow healing
- Skin becomes itchy and irritated
- Extreme weight loss
If you are experiencing these symptoms do not hesitate to contact a doctor as you might be experience symptoms of liver disease or cirrhosis of the liver.
What is Liver Disease?
Liver disease or hepatic disease is continuous damage to the liver causing a disturbance in the function and repair of the liver. Since the liver is responsible for many bodily functions, disturbance can cause significant damage to the body and cause other organs of the body to malfunction.
Liver disease is often considered a broad term for when the liver fails to perform its designated functions. Due to its constant repair function, 75% of the liver tissue needs to be damaged or affected before a significant decrease in function is noticeable. Unfortunately, once 75% of the liver is damaged beyond repair, liver failure becomes a life-threatening situation and needs immediate attention and intervention.
What are the Risk Factors for Liver Disease?
In many cases, liver disease tends to be associated with lifestyle choices and can be preventable given the right diet and habits. Alcohol-related liver disease occurs when there is continuous excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages. Alcohol is considered a poison to the body and when alcohol is abused, it can cause scarring of the liver aka cirrhosis of the liver. Drug abuse and certain over the counter medications also cause damage to the liver.
Unfortunately, some liver diseases are not preventable and are caused by viral infections and/or genetic dispositions. Here is a list of both preventable and nonpreventable risks that cause liver disease:
- Hepatitis B
- Alcoholism or heavy alcohol use
- Unsterilized tattoo or body piercing equipment
- Shared needles
- Exposure to other people’s blood and body fluids
- Unprotected sex
- Type 2 diabetes
- Exposure to certain chemicals, radiation, or toxins
- Family history of liver disease
Top 3 Hereditary Liver Diseases
Some liver diseases can be passed down from generation to generation regardless of diet or alcohol consumption.
- Wilson’s Disease: Wilson disease is a condition involving a buildup of copper in the liver that will cause cirrhosis.
- Hemochromatosis: Hereditary hemochromatosis (HH) is caused by large amounts of iron to accumulate in the liver.
- Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency: Alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency is a genetic disorder affect the liver and the lungs. AAT deficiency is caused by an accumulation of abnormal AAT protein is the liver. This leads to progressive liver damage with little to no symptoms until advanced cirrhosis.
Does Taking Over-the-Counter Medication with Alcohol Cause Liver Disease?
On many over-the-counter medications the labels will specifically advice people not to take them with alcohol because it can cause severe liver damage or even liver failure.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdose is a common cause of liver failure or liver damage. Yes, over-the-counter medications are relatively safe, but mixing them with alcohol can change what they do inside the body. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), Alcohol can make some medications less effective or raise the concentration of the medication in your blood to toxic levels.
Drinking alcohol can create new symptoms or make the side effects of a medication worse. Taking medication for sedation like opiates or sleeping medication can cause your breathing to stop.
Statins and Niacin are prescription medications used to control elevated blood levels of cholesterol. mixing alcohol and statins can cause increase risk in liver damage, liver inflammation, and/or cirrhosis.
Other medications can irritate the liver’s blood vessels causing them to narrow or form blood clots.
9 ways to Prevent Liver Damage
- Decrease consumption of alcoholic beverages. Binge drinking or heavy drinking is defined as more than 15 drinks a week for men and 8 drinks a week for women. If you consume 6 to 8 drinks a day, you may be struggling with alcoholism and should take to your doctor about seeking help before cirrhosis of the liver puts your life in danger.
- Avoid risky behavior or unsafe sex with multiple partners. Use protection, like a condom, during sex.
- Hepatitis A and B vaccinations. If you’re at increased risk of contracting hepatitis consider talking to your doctor about getting vaccinated.
- Do not take medication with alcohol and use them wisely. Take prescription and nonprescription drugs only when needed. Don’t mix medications and alcohol. Read the warning labels on narcotic and sleeping medication before considering drinking alcohol as they may be fatal.
- Avoid contact with other people’s blood and body fluids. Viral infections like Hepatitis can be spread by accidental needle sticks or improper cleanup of blood or body fluids. Always use sterile needles and avoid sharing needles at all costs.
- Keep your food safe and drink from a clean water source. Wash your hands after using the restroom or before eating or preparing foods. Contaminated water can carry toxins and pathogens that can cause liver damage.
- Avoid toxins in aerosol sprays. When using aerosol products, make sure it is a well-ventilated area. Toxins can cause server liver damage so wear a mask when spraying insecticides, fungicides, paint and other toxic chemicals.
- Protect your skin to avoid toxin exposure. When using insecticides and other toxic chemicals, wear gloves, long sleeves, a hat and a mask so that chemicals aren’t absorbed through your skin.
- Maintain a healthy diet and weight. Some cholesterol medications can cause liver damage or cirrhosis. Having a healthy diet can prevent the need for Statins and Niacin prescription medications. Obesity can cause nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
What is Cirrhosis?
Cirrhosis is the next stage of liver disease or liver damage as it is the permanent scarring of the liver. Cirrhosis is where the normal liver cells are replaced by scar tissue that cannot perform any liver function. The scar tissue cannot be healed or repaired or replaced by healthy tissue.
Seeing as there are many ways to damage the liver alcohol abuse or alcoholism is the most common cause of liver disease in the United States of America. Alcohol is considered a poison or toxic to liver cells and can cause liver inflammation. The inflammation of the liver via alcohol is also referred to as alcoholic hepatitis. More specifically, alcohol abuse causes fat to accumulate in liver cells affecting their ability to function.
Cirrhosis is life threatening and statistics show that 20% of patients with alcoholic fatty livers will progress to alcoholic cirrhosis.
Unfortunately, liver damage done by cirrhosis can be permanent and may require surgical removal of the scar tissue to encourage the liver to heal. If the alcoholic seeks help, liver cirrhosis can be diagnosed early and treated, further damage can be limited.
Symptoms & Complications of Cirrhosis of the Liver
Cirrhosis symptoms are very similar to liver disease as there are no alarming symptoms until 75% of the liver has cirrhosis scarring. When the symptoms do occur, intervention is needed right away. Symptoms of Cirrhosis include:
- Edema: The increased pressure in the portal vein can cause fluid to accumulate in the legs.
- Ascites: Fluid accumulation in your abdomen causing swelling. Edema and ascites can hinder the ability of the liver to make albumin proteins.
- Bruising and Bleeding: The increase in pressure can cause smaller veins to burst. since the liver is involved with blood clotting this function might be compromised. Depending on the location of the bleeding and bruising, this symptom in itself can be life-threating.
- Itchy skin
- Jaundice: Often the symptom the sparks intervention. Jaundice is the yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.
- Women experience loss of periods not related to menopause
- Men experience loss of sex drive and testicular atrophy
- Portal hypertension: High blood pressure in the veins that supply the liver. Cirrhosis slows blood flow through the liver and increases pressure in the veins that brings blood to the liver
- Splenomegaly: Portal hypertension can cause the spleen to swell or become enlarged. This swelling is caused by white blood cells and platelets to become trapped in the organ. This effects the efficiency of the immune system.
- Malnutrition: If alcohol abuse is the cause of Cirrhosis, the person tends to replace meals with alcoholic beverages. This makes it more difficult for your body to process nutrients. Malnutrition leads to weakness, fatigue, and weight loss.
- Hepatic encephalopathy: Liver damaged by cirrhosis hinders the ability to clear toxins from the blood. These toxins build up in the brain causing drowsiness, confusion, and slurring of the speech, and difficulty concentrating. With time, hepatic encephalopathy can lead to a coma.
- Increased risk of liver cancer: those who develop liver cancer may have had pre-existing cirrhosis.