Liver disease is a term for a collection of conditions, diseases,
and infections that affect the cells, tissues, structures, or functions of the
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
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
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
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
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
sarcoidosis, a disease that causes a
buildup of lesions within the liver and other organs of the body
gallstones, which may block the bile
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
Alcohol-related liver diseases
fatty liver disease, which causes an enlarged liver