Types of Liver Disease: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

Via Peters

Liver disease is a broad term that describes health conditions that damage the liver. As the body’s largest internal organ, the liver helps with vital functions like digesting food, processing substances, and filtering waste. When a person develops liver disease, the organ becomes damaged and can’t work properly.

This article provides an overview of common types of liver disease and available treatment options.

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Types of Liver Disease

Liver disease generally refers to conditions that damage your liver. They can develop for many reasons, including:

Depending on the underlying cause, liver disease can typically be managed through lifestyle changes, medications, and sometimes a liver transplant or surgery. If it’s left untreated, liver disease can cause serious complications that may be life-threatening. 

Experts have identified more than 100 different types of liver disease.

Hepatitis

Hepatitis is liver inflammation that can either be caused by a virus or by other factors.

There are two main categories of hepatitis:

  • Viral hepatitis is the most common type of hepatitis. This infection develops after exposure to viruses through contaminated food, water, or bodily fluids. Vaccines are available to help prevent infections caused by hepatitis A and hepatitis B viruses.
  • Non-viral hepatitis is caused by heavy use of alcohol or drugs, exposure to certain toxins, and some autoimmune diseases.

Some hepatitis cases clear up on their own if the body can fight off the infection. Other cases of hepatitis are “chronic,” meaning they last for long periods of time and often lead to serious health complications.

Fatty Liver Disease

Fatty liver disease is just what it sounds like: damage that happens when too much fat builds up in the liver.

There are two types of this condition:

  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is linked to type 2 diabetes, obesity, and an unhealthy diet.
  • Alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is linked to heavy alcohol use.

Fatty liver disease can typically be treated with lifestyle changes, such as improving your diet and reducing your alcohol intake.

Autoimmune Conditions

Autoimmune conditions happen when the immune system—the body’s protection against harmful infections—mistakenly attacks itself. When a person has an autoimmune liver condition, the liver cells are specifically attacked and damaged.

Common autoimmune liver conditions include:

While these autoimmune conditions share similar symptoms, each one causes damage in slightly different locations, responds differently to treatment, and is linked to different risk factors.

Genetic Conditions

A genetic condition is a health condition that’s passed down to you by one (or both) of your parents. Certain genetic conditions impact the liver and its ability to function properly, such as:

Family history of a genetic liver condition isn’t always known. Blood testing and genetic testing can help determine a diagnosis.

Drug-Induced Liver Disease

Drug-induced liver disease is liver damage caused by an overexposure to certain drugs. Because the liver helps the body process substances, taking too much of a medication, drug, or supplement can harm the liver cells.

Some common drugs that can have this effect on the liver include:

Depending on the drug and the person, liver damage can happen after short-term or long-term use. This damage can usually be successfully reversed and treated after stopping the drug.

It’s best to check with a healthcare provider before adding a new supplement to your routine. Even though they’re available over-the-counter, overuse of supplements can lead to liver damage and other serious health issues or interact with medications you’re currently taking.

Cancer

There are several different types of liver cancer that develop when cells start to grow abnormally, forming cancerous tumors. 

Experts are still researching the exact causes of liver cancer, but they’ve identified several factors that may put a person at an increased risk for developing it, including:

  • Viral hepatitis
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to certain toxins or chemicals
  • Family history of liver disease
  • Medical conditions such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, lupus, and diabetes

It’s also possible for certain cancers to spread from other parts of the body to the liver, like from the breast, stomach, pancreas, lungs, or kidneys.

Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is severe scarring of the liver that happens after long-term damage. Because this scarring blocks blood flow to the liver, the organ isn’t able to function properly.

Cirrhosis is most commonly caused by:

  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Hepatitis B and C
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

While there’s no cure for cirrhosis, some steps can be taken to stop the progression of the disease and heal some of the scarring.

Liver Failure

During liver failure, the organ starts to shut down due to severe damage or inflammation. This can progress slowly over time or occur suddenly.

Liver failure can happen as a result of:

  • A hepatitis infection
  • High doses of medication
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Advanced fatty liver disease
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Cancer

Causes of Liver Disease

There are several different reasons behind the development of liver disease. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Viruses
  • Genetics 
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Poor diet/lifestyle 
  • Overuse of certain medications or drugs
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals

Liver Disease Risk Factors

Anyone can develop liver disease, but some people may be more at risk. For example, researchers have found that cirrhosis diagnosis is more common in men, people age 50 and older, people with type 2 diabetes, and people with heavy alcohol consumption habits.

Liver Disease Symptoms

Liver disease doesn’t always come with noticeable symptoms. But when it does, some of the common signs include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Swelling in the legs and ankles
  • Itchy skin
  • Dark urine
  • Pale stool
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bruising easily
  • Confusion or agitation

Keep in mind that these symptoms may vary depending on the person and the underlying cause of the liver disease.

Diagnosis

Because symptoms aren’t always immediately noticeable, liver disease is often diagnosed in later stages.

Depending on the type of liver disease that’s suspected, a healthcare provider will review your symptoms and conduct a physical examination. They may also order diagnostic tests, including:

An early diagnosis isn’t always possible, but it can prevent further damage to your liver. If accessible, scheduling annual physician exams and undergoing routine blood work can help you and your healthcare provider keep track of any changes to your liver’s health.

When to Call a Healthcare Provider

Liver disease can progress to become life-threatening if it’s not treated. Seek medical attention right away if you notice:

  • Sudden yellowing of the eyes (and potentially the skin)
  • Pain in the upper abdomen
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Unusual confusion or agitation
  • Nausea or diarrhea

Treatment

A specific treatment plan for liver disease will depend on the exact diagnosis and the stage of the disease.

Liver disease is generally treated and managed with the following tactics:

  • Lifestyle modifications, such as limiting alcohol
  • Dietary changes, such as adopting a diet low in fats, sugar, and salt
  • Medications, such as antiviral drugs to treat hepatitis or steroids to combat inflammation
  • Surgery, such as a liver transplant or surgery to remove liver cancer

Prevention

To help keep your liver healthy and avoid damage, experts recommend several preventive tips: 

  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including drinking alcohol in moderation, focusing on a nutritious diet, and incorporating physical exercise.
  • Using medications in recommended doses as needed.
  • Considering hepatitis vaccination, especially if you have an increased risk of contracting hepatitis.
  • Practicing safe behaviors while participating in sexual activities, getting body piercings and tattoos, or injecting intravenous drugs.

Summary

There are many different types of liver disease, which is a broad definition for any health condition that causes damage to the liver. This vital organ is responsible for helping the body perform functions like digesting food, processing substances, and filtering waste.

Some liver diseases are caused by viruses, like hepatitis, while others develop as a result of alcohol overuse, exposure to toxins, or genetics. Treatment options will vary based on the specific condition but may include lifestyle adjustments, medications, and surgery or liver transplant in life-threatening cases.

A Word From Verywell

Being diagnosed with a form of liver disease can feel scary, but try to remember that you’re not alone in this struggle and there are many treatment options available. There are even vaccinations available for certain ones, like hepatitis A and B. If you notice signs of a liver disease, contact a healthcare provider for an examination.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the most common form of liver disease?

    Hepatitis is the most common form of liver disease. However, recent data points to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and liver disease caused by alcohol overuse as other types of liver disease that are on the rise.

  • What are the four stages of liver disease?

    Liver disease starts with inflammation, leads to initial scarring (fibrosis), progresses to severe scarring (cirrhosis), and can potentially result in liver failure. As the last stage of liver disease, liver failure can be life-threatening if not treated quickly.

  • Can liver disease be cured?

    It depends on the type of liver disease. Diseases like cirrhosis, for example, cannot be cured. But many cases of liver disease can be successfully managed with lifestyle modifications, medication, or surgery.

https://www.verywellhealth.com/types-of-liver-disease-5225203

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