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Understanding the progression of liver disease may help you make better health choices. (Shutterstock/*)
There are many different types of liver disease but with any liver disease the liver damage will progress in a similar way. It is important to know what happens to your liver at each stage of the progression before complete liver failure. Understanding the progression of liver disease may help you make better health choices.
Your liver is one of the most important organs in your body. It is responsible for detoxifying the blood, aiding food digestion and storing energy as sugars for later use. But those are only the liver’s main functions. There are also about 500 other functions that contribute to your health. When your liver cannot function properly, your whole body will be affected.
Here are the four stages of liver disease.
Stage 1: The first sign of liver damage is inflammation
One of the main functions of your liver is to detoxify your blood of toxins found in the food you eat and the products you use. The first sign of liver damage is inflammation. Inflammation in the liver is a sign of your immune system responding to foreign substances, such as too much toxins. This can cause your liver to enlarge.
There are many causes for inflammation. Excess fat in the liver, too much toxins or a viral infection in the liver can make your liver tender and swell up. These are some conditions that might cause inflammation in the liver: non-alcoholic fatty liver; alcoholic fatty liver; and liver hepatitis, including viral hepatitis or autoimmune hepatitis.
Most of the time, you can feel if your liver is injured when you have stomach pain in the liver area (the upper right area of your abdomen). Sometimes, you will feel heat in the area. There are some cases where you have no sign of inflammation at all, such as in non-alcoholic fatty liver.
Let your doctor know if you have any signs of inflammation. Treating your liver at this stage can help reverse liver damage.
Stage 2: Fibrosis is the start of liver scarring
When you do not treat the inflammation, the inflammation will start to cause the liver to scar. These scar tissues will replace the healthy liver tissue and thus reduce liver function. This entire process is called fibrosis.
When the liver's function drops, toxins and fat will continue their build up in the liver. Besides preventing the liver from functioning, the scar can block blood flow to the organ.
At this stage, there is still chance to save your liver through medication and lifestyle management. Your liver has an amazing healing ability, thus it still may heal from this stage.
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Stage 3: More severe scarring leads to cirrhosis
If you don’t treat fibrosis, you are at risk of the next stage called cirrhosis, which is severe scarring of the liver. At this point, the liver can no longer heal itself. It can take a long time to develop cirrhosis, sometimes 20 to 30 years. Unfortunately, this is when people start noticing liver disease because the symptoms are more obvious. Cirrhosis can lead to many complications. Some of the symptoms and complications are: fatigue, or feeling tired; weakness; itching; loss of appetite; weight loss; nausea; bloating of the abdomen from ascites, which is a buildup of fluid in the abdomen; edema—swelling due to a buildup of fluid—in the feet, ankles, or legs; spiderlike blood vessels, called spider angiomas, on the skin; and jaundice, a condition that causes the skin and whites of the eyes to turn yellow.
Cirrhosis can lead to a number of complications, including liver cancer. The treatment for cirrhosis is to control the progress of the scarring and treat any complications and symptoms caused by cirrhosis.
Stage 4: Liver failure
Your liver has lost all ability to function and unable to heal. Liver failure can be a chronic or acute condition. Acute liver failure strikes fast just in 48 hours as a reaction to poison or a drug overdose. While chronic liver failure developed from cirrhosis may have been going on for years. When you have liver failure, your best option might be a liver transplant.
As liver failure gets worse, it can affect you mentally and physically. You may feel confused and disoriented. You may experience diarrhea, loss of appetite and lose weight rapidly. Because these symptoms can be caused by many other conditions, it is hard to diagnose liver failure just from a physical exam.
When you get the diagnosis for liver failure, you will immediately get medical attention to salvage what is left of your liver. If this is not possible, the only option may be a liver transplant.
It is important to have your health checked regularly, as liver disease can be detected during the inflammation stage or fibrosis stages through an ultrasound or X-ray of your stomach. If you are treated successfully at these stages, your liver may have a chance to heal itself and recover. (kes)
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.