The liver has a lot of important functions including ridding the body of toxins. Learn about problems that can affect the liver and how to avoid them.
The liver is an organ about the size of a football. It sits just under your rib cage on the right side of your abdomen. The liver is essential for digesting food and ridding your body of toxic substances.
Liver disease can be inherited (genetic). Liver problems can also be caused by a variety of factors that damage the liver, such as viruses, alcohol use and obesity.
Over time, conditions that damage the liver can lead to scarring (cirrhosis), which can lead to liver failure, a life-threatening condition. But early treatment may give the liver time to heal.
The liver is your largest internal organ. About the size of a football, it's located mainly in the upper right portion of your abdomen, beneath the diaphragm and above your stomach.
Liver disease doesn't always cause noticeable signs and symptoms. If signs and symptoms of liver disease do occur, they may include:
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any persistent signs or symptoms that worry you. Seek immediate medical attention if you have abdominal pain that is so severe that you can't stay still.
Liver problems that can occur include fatty liver disease and cirrhosis. The liver and its cells — as seen through a microscope — change dramatically when a normal liver becomes fatty or cirrhotic.
Liver disease has many causes.
Parasites and viruses can infect the liver, causing inflammation that reduces liver function. The viruses that cause liver damage can be spread through blood or semen, contaminated food or water, or close contact with a person who is infected. The most common types of liver infection are hepatitis viruses, including:
Diseases in which your immune system attacks certain parts of your body (autoimmune) can affect your liver. Examples of autoimmune liver diseases include:
An abnormal gene inherited from one or both of your parents can cause various substances to build up in your liver, resulting in liver damage. Genetic liver diseases include:
Additional, common causes of liver disease include:
Factors that may increase your risk of liver disease include:
Complications of liver disease vary, depending on the cause of your liver problems. Untreated liver disease may progress to liver failure, a life-threatening condition.
To prevent liver disease:
Finding the cause and extent of liver damage is important in guiding treatment. Your doctor is likely to start with a health history and thorough physical examination.
Your doctor may then recommend:
An ultrasound uses sound waves to create an image. This ultrasound shows a noncancerous (benign) liver tumor.
Treatment for liver disease depends on your diagnosis. Some liver problems can be treated with lifestyle modifications, such as stopping alcohol use or losing weight, typically as part of a medical program that includes careful monitoring of liver function. Other liver problems may be treated with medications or may require surgery.
Treatment for liver disease that causes or has led to liver failure may ultimately require a liver transplant.
Changing certain lifestyle habits can often help improve your liver health. If you've been diagnosed with liver disease, your doctor may recommend that you:
No alternative medicine therapies have been proved to treat liver disease. Some studies have indicated possible benefits, but further research is needed.
On the other hand, some dietary and herbal supplements can harm your liver. More than a thousand medications and herbal products have been associated with liver damage, including:
To protect your liver, it's important to talk to your doctor about the potential risks before you take any complementary or alternative medicines.
You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in the liver (hepatologist).
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment.
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may leave time to go over points you want to spend more time on. You may be asked: