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Types of Liver Disease

written by: Baby Rani • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 11/4/2010

The liver is one of the most significant organs in our bodies controlling many vital functions. Because of this central role, the liver is also susceptible to many diseases. Learn more about this fascinating organ.

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    Healthy Liver Functioning

    The human liver is a trilateral organ settled behind the ribs in the upper-right abdomen. The weight of a healthy liver is approximately 3 pounds (1.5 kilograms) in adults and it is pinkish-brown in colour. It is the biggest internal organ in our body and performs many critical functions like storage of vitamins, sugar and iron; maintaining cholesterol level; detoxifying our blood; developing coagulant agents essential for curtailing bleeding; playing a role in the immune system; making bile, which helps digest food; and absorbing nutrients. The liver comprises more than 300 billion focused cells performing and regulating a huge number of high-volume biochemical reactions.

    The liver is compulsory for the body to function — a person whose liver is not functioning properly or does not work at all cannot expect to endure for more than 24 hours. It is one of the few human inner organs which has the ability to regenerate itself; as little as 25% of a liver can grow back into a whole liver. This is primarily due to the hepatoctye cells that make up most of the liver. These cells are involved in protein synthesis, among other functions, and can generate their own structural proteins and intracellular enzymes, thus renewing the liver when needed.

    Since the liver plays an important role in most of the body’s functions, it is no wonder that the liver is also one of the first organs to fail when something goes wrong. A number of diseases and conditions affect the liver. The most common symptom of many liver diseases is jaundice, a yellowing of the skin caused by elevated levels of bilirubin. Bilirubin is usually refined by the liver and egested as bile, but a sick or damaged liver cannot execute this function which leads to extra amounts of bilirubin causing jaundice.

    The term "liver disease" covers many different conditions caused by a variety of factors. These components include viruses, toxic chemicals, genetic conditions, cancers and autoimmune diseases. Two of the most common liver diseases are hepatitis and cirrhosis.

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    Major Types of Liver Diseases

    Medically, hepatitis is "inflammation of the liver," and it can lead to ultimate liver damage or failure. The most common cause of hepatitis is a group of viruses called the hepatitis viruses. These are assigned A to E, and the hepatitis B virus causes most of the infections through out the world. It can also have a large number of other causes, including excessive alcohol consumption, toxins in the blood, untoward reaction to certain medicines, poor circulation, pregnancy, and certain autoimmune conditions and hereditary conditions.

    Cirrhosis is caused by other types of chronic liver diseases. Cirrhosis of the liver is the formation of fibrous scar tissue in the liver, stopping normal blood flow through the organ and ruining its function. In most cases the harm to the liver induced by cirrhosis cannot be inverted, and treatment for this situation consists of stopping or delaying progression. Cirrhosis has many possible causes, but is mostly due to enduring alcoholism, fatty liver disease, hepatitis B and C. Tobacco smoking and certain drugs also contribute to cirrhosis.

    The other liver diseases are hereditary diseases such as hemochromatosis, Gilbert's syndrome, and Wilson's disease; cancers such as hepatocellular carcinoma and cholangiocarcinoma; autoimmune disorders like sclerosing cholangitis and biliary cirrhosis; and many more.

    Most of the liver diseases are interlinked; for instance, chronic hepatitis may lead to cirrhosis while hepatocellular carcinoma, a form of liver cancer, can be caused by hepatitis B or C infections or by chronic cirrhosis. Liver function tests are a range of clinical blood tests used to get information of the state of a patient's liver. These tests depend on examining the presence of enzymes that are most ample in liver tissue.

    The American Liver Foundation is committed to assisting Americans living with liver diseases and gives easy to understand brochures educating people about the common liver diseases and the treatments available. Tips and guides on maintaining a healthy liver can be found at the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases website.

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