What is liver disease? (Continued)
As part of its function, the liver makes bile, a fluid that contains among other substances, water, chemicals, and bile acids (made from stored cholesterol in the liver). Bile is stored in the gallbladder and when food enters the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine), bile is secreted into the duodenum, to aid in the digestion of food.
The liver is the only organ in the body that can easily replace damaged cells, but if enough cells are lost, the liver may not be able to meet the needs of the body.
The liver can be considered a factory; and among its many functions include:
- Production of bile that is required in the digestion of food, in particular fats
- Storing of the extra glucose or sugar as glycogen, and then converting it back into glucose when the body needs it for energy
- Production of blood clotting factors
- Production of amino acids (the building blocks for making proteins), including those used to help fight infection
- The processing and storage of iron necessary for red blood cell production
- The manufacture of cholesterol and other chemicals required for fat transport
- The conversion of waste products of body metabolism into urea that is excreted in the urine
- Metabolizing medications into their active ingredient in the body
Cirrhosis is a term that describes permanent scarring of the liver. In cirrhosis, the normal liver cells are replaced by scar tissue that cannot perform any liver function.
Acute liver failure may or may not be reversible, meaning that on occasion, there is a treatable cause and the liver may be able to recover and resume its normal functions.
The liver is the largest internal organ in the body. Its main functions are to:
- metabolize most of the nutrients that are absorbed by the intestine
- store nutrients
- produce proteins
- detoxify blood by removing medications, alcohol, and potentially harmful chemicals from the bloodstream and treating them chemically so they can be excreted by digestive or urinary systems
Because the liver comes in close contact with many harmful substances, it is protected against disease in two main ways. First, it can regenerate itself by repairing or replacing injured tissue. Second, the liver has many cell units responsible for the same task. Therefore, if one area is injured, other cells will perform the functions of the injured section indefinitely or until the damage has been repaired.
Different types of liver disorders include hepatitis, cirrhosis, liver tumours, and liver abscess (collection of pus), just to name a few. The focus here will be the two most common forms: hepatitis and cirrhosis.
There is more than one type of hepatitis, and although they have similar symptoms, they’re contracted in very different ways.
Hepatitis A is the most common and the most infectious, spreading easily from person to person like most other viruses. It affects millions around the world and is responsible for more than 2 million deaths a year.
Hepatitis B is acquired through exposure to infected blood, vaginal fluids, or semen. It’s estimated that about 300,000 Canadians have hepatitis B.
Hepatitis C affects about 3.5 million North Americans. About 15% of those with hepatitis C may have been exposed to infected blood products before widespread blood testing began.
Hepatitis D is unique because it can only affect those that already have hepatitis B.
The second type of liver disorder is called cirrhosis. It’s the final stage of many different forms of liver disease. Cirrhosis involves permanent scarring of the liver that can severely impact the proper functioning of the organ.