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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Diseases and Conditions > Liver Disease
      Category : Health Centers > Digestive System

Liver Disease

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Tests | Prevention & Expectations | Treatment & Monitoring

Liver disease is a term for a collection of conditions, diseases, and infections that affect the cells, tissues, structures, or functions of the liver.

What is going on in the body?

The liver is an important organ in the body located in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen. It is responsible for:

  • filtering the blood
  • making bile, a substance that aids in digestion and helps rid the body of harmful substances
  • processing fats and sugars, helping the body store energy for later use
  • making important proteins, such as those involved in blood clotting
  • metabolizing many medications, such as barbiturates, sedatives, and amphetamines
  • the storage of vitamins A, B12, D, and several of the B-complex vitamins. The liver also stores iron and copper.
  • If the liver becomes inflamed or infected, its ability to perform these functions may be impaired. Liver disease and infections are caused by a variety of conditions including viral infections, bacterial invasion, and chemical or physical changes within the body. The most common cause of liver damage is malnutrition, especially that which occurs with alcoholism.

    Symptoms of liver disease may be acute, occurring suddenly, or chronic, developing slowly over a long period of time. Chronic liver disease is much more common than acute. The rates of chronic liver disease for men are two times higher than for women. Liver disease may range from mild to severe depending on the type of disease present.

    What are the causes and risks of the disease?

    Liver disease can be caused by a variety of factors. Causes include:

  • congenital birth defects, or abnormalities of the liver present at birth
  • metabolic disorders, or defects in basic body processes
  • viral or bacterial infections
  • alcohol or poisoning by toxins
  • certain medications that are toxic to the liver
  • nutritional deficiencies
  • trauma, or injury
  • Common liver diseases in children include:

  • galactosemia, an inherited disease in which the body can not tolerate certain sugars in milk. These sugars can build up, causing serious damage to the liver and other organs of the body.
  • alagille syndrome, a condition in which the bile ducts narrow and deteriorate, especially during the first year of life
  • alpha 1- antitrypsin deficiency, a genetic liver disease in children that can lead to hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver
  • neonatal hepatitis, which is hepatitis that occurs in a newborn during the first few months of life
  • tyrosinemia, a disorder that causes serious problems with liver metabolism
  • hemorrhagic telangiectasia, a condition in which thin blood vessels allow frequent and easy bleeding of the skin and digestive tract
  • Reye's syndrome, a condition that causes a buildup of fat in the liver
  • Wilson's disease, an inherited condition that causes a buildup of the mineral copper in the liver
  • thalassemia, a group of hereditary anemias, or low red blood cell counts
  • biliary atresia, a condition in which the bile ducts extending from the liver to the intestine are too small in diameter or are missing
  • chronic active hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver that causes severe scarring and interference with liver function
  • cancer of the liver, which may result from cancer in other parts of the body that have spread to the liver
  • Common liver diseases seen in adults include:

  • cirrhosis, which is a serious condition that causes tissues and cells in the liver to be replaced by scar tissue. This results in serious complications throughout the liver and other organs of the body.
  • type I glycogen storage disease, which causes problems in controlling blood sugars when a person fasts
  • porphyria, a condition that causes a malfunction in how the body uses porphyrins. Porphyrins are important in making the red blood cells and carrying oxygen throughout the body.
  • hemochromatosis, a condition which causes the body to absorb and store too much iron. The iron buildup causes damage to the liver and other organs.
  • primary sclerosing cholangitis, a condition that causes the bile ducts of the liver to narrow due to inflammation and scarring
  • sarcoidosis, a disease that causes a buildup of lesions within the liver and other organs of the body
  • gallstones, which may block the bile duct
  • hepatitis, an inflammation and infection of the liver caused by a number of viruses
  • cystic disease of the liver, which causes lesions and fluid-filled masses in the liver
  • Alcohol-related liver diseases include:

  • fatty liver disease, which causes an enlarged liver
  • alcoholic hepatitis
  • alcoholic cirrhosis


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    Liver Disease: Symptoms & Signs

    Author: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Reviewer: Barbara Mallari, RN, BSN, PHN
    Date Reviewed: 07/13/01

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