A variety of illnesses can affect the liver.
Liver disease is any disturbance of liver function that causes illness. The liver is responsible for many critical functions within the body and should it become diseased or injured, the loss of those functions can cause significant damage to the body. Liver disease is also referred to as hepatic disease.
Liver disease is a broad term that covers all the potential problems that cause the liver to fail to perform its designated functions. Usually, more than 75% or three quarters of liver tissue needs to be affected before decrease in function occurs.
The liver is the largest solid organ in the body; and is also considered a gland because among its many functions, it makes and secretes bile.
Signs and symptoms of liver disease include:
- Skin and eyes that appear yellowish (jaundice)
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Swelling in the legs and ankles
- Itchy skin
- Dark urine color
- Pale stool color, or bloody or tar-colored stool
- Chronic fatigue
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Tendency to bruise easily
However, since there are a variety of liver diseases, the symptoms tend to be specific for that illness until late-stage liver disease and liver failure occurs.
In the early stage of any liver disease, your liver may become inflamed. It may become tender and enlarged. Inflammation shows that your body is trying to fight an infection or heal an injury. But if the inflammation continues over time, it can start to hurt your liver permanently.
When most other parts of your body become inflamed, you can feel it – the area becomes hot and painful. But an inflamed liver may cause you no discomfort at all.
If your liver disease is diagnosed and treated successfully at this stage, the inflammation may go away.
If left untreated, the inflamed liver will start to scar. As excess scar tissue grows, it replaces healthy liver tissue. This process is called fibrosis. (Scar tissue is a kind of fibrous tissue.)
Scar tissue cannot do the work that healthy liver tissue can. Moreover, scar tissue can keep blood from flowing through your liver. As more scar tissue builds up, your liver may not work as well as it once did. Or, the healthy part of your liver has to work harder to make up for the scarred part.
If your liver disease is diagnosed and treated successfully at this stage, there’s still a chance that your liver can heal itself over time.
But if left untreated, your liver may become so seriously scarred that it can no longer heal itself. This stage – when the damage cannot be reversed – is called cirrhosis