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Your Liver Health

 

As the body’s second largest organ the liver performs a number of key functions related to digestion, metabolism, immunity and the processing of nutrients.

Everything we eat and drink, including medicine, passes through the liver so it is important to keep it healthy. 

For people living with viral hepatitis and liver disease, it is essential to look after the liver’s health.

Lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle is important to the liver. Things like fat accumulation, hazardous alcohol use abuse, and some medications can cause damage to your liver. Your liver can be forgiving but it has its limits. So eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy body weight, and having only a little or no alcohol can have a positive impact on health and keep the liver in best shape possible.

Monitoring

Those living with hepatitis B and hepatitis C are at more risk of liver disease such as cirrhosis (scarring), liver cancer, and liver failure.  Even people who feel well may need treatment.   So monitoring the liver is very important.  Regular check-ups with a GP and/or liver specialist help to keep an eye on how things are tracking, and assess if and when someone needs treatment. People should talk to their doctor about regular liver checks 

A liver check-up usually involves a liver function test and other tests to measure how well the liver is working. These tests can be arranged by a GP or specialist.  The check up may also include a FibroScan, or liver ultrasound - both are simple, easy and painless procedures. After a check-up, the healthcare professional can explain the results and discuss things which will assist in liver health. 

Disorders of the liver

Some disorders of the liver include:

= Fatty liver disease – this is the most common of the alcohol-induced liver disorders. Fat accumulates inside the liver cells, causing cell enlargement (steatosis) and sometimes cell damage (steatohepatitis), and can lead to cirrhosis. Similar changes are also seen in people who do not drink excessive amounts of alcohol but are overweight, obese or have diabetes. The liver becomes enlarged, causing discomfort on the upper right side of the abdomen.

= Cirrhosis – this has many causes but is commonly due to hepatitis infection or excessive alcohol intake. The cells of the liver are progressively replaced by scar tissue, which seriously impairs liver functioning.

= Hepatitis – a general term meaning inflammation of the liver. It is also used to refer to infections of the liver by specific viruses (hepatitis A to E). Hepatitis B and C

= Haemochromatosis – this inherited disease makes the body absorb and store higher than normal amounts of iron.This damages many organs including the liver, pancreas and heart.

    Autoimmune liver disorders – an abnormal increase in immune cells damages the liver cells. These rare conditions include autoimmune hepatitis and primary biliary cirrhosis (mostly women affected) and primary sclerosing cholangitis (more common in men).

= Cancer – primary cancers can arise in the liver, most often from chronic hepatitis with cirrhosis. Stray cancer cells from a tumour elsewhere in the body may cause a secondary tumour in the liver.

= Galactosaemia – the body’s reaction to particular milk sugars damages the liver and other organs. This is a rare inherited disorder.

=   Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency – this is another rare inherited disorder that can cause cirrhosis of the liver.

= Wilson’s disease – the liver can’t excrete copper. Various organs of the body, including the liver and brain, are affected by the excessively high copper levels.

Find out more about the complications, diagnosis and treatment of liver disease

Support

Joining a support group or a health management course (online or in person) is another great way to find out about things that can be done to manage hepatitis and learn from others.

For more information on living well with hepatitis, go to Living Well with Hepatitis B and Living Well with Hepatitis C.