Liver diseases – an overview

Liver diseases - an overview

In Germany, around five million people suffer from liver disease. The most common diseases include liver inflammation (hepatitis), liver cirrhosis (shrivelled liver), fatty liver and liver cancer. Liver diseases often go unnoticed for a long time, as they manifest themselves early through non-specific symptoms such as exhaustion and tiredness. We will introduce you to the most common liver diseases and tell you how to recognize and treat them.

Causes of Liver Disease

Liver disease can have a variety of causes. A common trigger is chronic alcohol abuse  – it is responsible for about half of all liver diseases. In addition, chronic viral infections, metabolic diseases or medication are also possible causes.


Liver disease: symptoms

Liver disease is often recognized late because it only causes significant symptoms at an advanced stage. For a long time, however, only weak and non-specific symptoms occur. These include, among others:

  • fatigue and exhaustion
  • Appetitverlust
  • nausea and vomiting
  • difficulty concentrating
  • a feeling of pressure in the upper right abdomen

If such symptoms persist over a more extended period, you should always consider liver disease and consult a doctor as a precaution. The yellowing of the skin and mucous membranes, typical of many liver diseases, only occurs at an advanced stage. When you notice this symptom, a doctor’s visit is urgently needed.

fatty liver

As the name suggests, fatty liver causes more fat to be stored in the liver. The cause is usually an unhealthy lifestyle with a high-calorie diet, little exercise and high alcohol consumption. In addition, however, diseases such as diabetes or a lipid metabolism disorder and the use of certain medications can also lead to fatty liver.

A fatty liver only causes symptoms when the organ has already greatly enlarged. Then, there can be unspecific symptoms such as tiredness, exhaustion, loss of appetite, feeling of fullness and flatulence. A feeling of pressure in the upper right abdomen can also occur.

If fatty liver is diagnosed, reducing body weight and abstaining from alcohol are crucial. If this is followed consistently, the fatty liver can often be reversed.

If there is no change in lifestyle, the liver can become inflamed – this increases the risk of secondary diseases such as liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.


Inflammation of the liver (hepatitis)

There are four known types of liver inflammation, all of which are caused by viruses. In addition, hepatitis can also develop as a result of fatty liver or diseases such as diabetes mellitus and other metabolic diseases.

  • Hepatitis A: The hepatitis A virus is transmitted by smear infection and contaminated food – especially drinking water. The infection usually heals by itself and is considered relatively harmless. However, complications can occur in elderly or chronically ill people.
  • Hepatitis B: Hepatitis B is one of the most common infectious diseases. The hepatitis B virus is transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, semen or saliva. Most of the time, the infection clears up on its own. In rare cases, however, it can take a chronic course. It is then essential that therapy is initiated at an early stage to avoid possible late effects such as cirrhosis of the liver.
  • Hepatitis C: Infection with the hepatitis C virus primarily occurs through the bloodstream. If the infection is not recognized in time, it takes a chronic course in over 50 per cent of cases. If this is the case, the risk of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer increases.
  • Hepatitis E: Hepatitis E infection is primarily transmitted through contaminated water or food. The infection usually heals independently, but complications can occur, especially during pregnancy.

Vaccinations against hepatitis A and hepatitis B are available. These are recommended for vulnerable people such as medical staff or travellers in high-risk areas.

liver cirrhosis

Cirrhosis of the liver develops as a result of prolonged stress or damage to the liver. Common causes are excessive alcohol consumption and infection with hepatitis viruses.

First, the load on the liver leads to a reversible increase in connective tissue in the liver. Liver cells are later replaced by connective tissue. This process is irreversible and means the liver can no longer function properly.

Suppose liver cirrhosis is not treated in time. In that case, this can have serious consequences: the consequences include ascites (water belly), hepatic encephalopathy (impaired brain performance), variceal bleeding (bleeding from varicose veins ) and hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer). However, these severe consequences can be prevented or at least delayed by early therapy. However, liver cirrhosis is not curable.

liver cancer

Liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) is often diagnosed late because the cancer does not cause any symptoms for a long time. The first signs include nausea and weight loss, as well as upper abdominal pain and jaundice. As with many other types of cancer, the chances of recovery are better the earlier liver cancer is discovered.

One of the most common causes of liver cancer is infection with the hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus. They account for about half of all liver cancers. Another 40 per cent are triggered by alcohol or obesity. You can do several things in this area in particular to prevent liver cancer.


Other liver diseases

In addition to the frequently occurring liver diseases mentioned, there are also other less well-known ones:

  • Autoimmune liver diseases: The body attacks its liver cells due to a malfunction in the immune system. However, diseases such as autoimmune hepatitis, primary biliary cirrhosis and primary sclerosing cholangitis are relatively rare.
  • Iron storage disease: In this hereditary disease, the body stores large amounts of iron in the pancreas, heart and liver. This initially leads to an increase in connective tissue in the liver. Late effects can be liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.
  • A build-up of bile causes hepatosis due to an allergic-toxic reaction in the bile. Causes are, for example, metabolic disorders, permanent malnutrition or toxic substances such as medication. The swelling of the bile ducts leads to what is known as liver parenchymal damage. This means the liver parenchyma, i.e. the liver tissue, is damaged. This tissue is responsible for the detoxification and metabolism of the liver. Possible symptoms are, for example, jaundice, itchingfever, digestive problems or obesity.

Prevent liver disease

To prevent liver disease, you should eat a healthy, balanced diet and consume alcohol in moderation. If necessary, get vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B. For example, you can prevent illness when travelling to a risk area.

Have your liver values ​​checked at regular intervals. This way, you can quickly and reliably determine whether everything is in order with your liver. Also note whether you keep noticing symptoms such as tiredness, exhaustion, loss of appetite or nausea. These can be signs of liver disease.

If you experience the typical symptoms of jaundice, such as yellowing of the eyes and skin, you should see a doctor. Early diagnosis is crucial for many liver diseases. On the other hand, if the disease is detected very late, sometimes the only remaining treatment option is a liver transplant.


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