Types of Liver Disease

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The term, liver disease, describes many different conditions that can damage the liver. Viruses cause some types of liver disease. Genetics cause others. Some types of liver disease go away on their own. Others can cause serious damage and lead to advanced liver disease with time if they aren't treated. Often, there are ways to treat liver diseases and keep your liver working well.

Your liver plays a key role in digesting food. It also helps your body fight infections and breaks down toxic substances. If your liver can't do its job, your life could be in danger. Here is what you need to know about some of the most common liver disease types.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is liver disease caused by a virus. The hepatitis A virus spreads easily. You can get it by eating or drinking infected food or beverages. You can also get it through sexual contact or other close contact with an infected person. Hepatitis A causes liver inflammation. The main liver disease symptoms with Hepatitis A include:

  • Dark-colored urine or pale stools

  • Fever

  • Fatigue

  • Headaches

  • Itchy skin

  • Pain beneath the right side of your ribcage

  • Stomachaches, nausea, or poor appetite

  • Sore muscles and pain in your joints

  • Yellow skin and eyes

Most people do not need treatment for hepatitis A. It usually goes away on its own and seldom causes complications or long-term liver damage. However, hepatitis A can cause sudden liver failure in rare cases. This occurs most often in seniors and people with chronic liver disease.
Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is another liver disease type caused by a virus. You can get it by coming into direct contact with blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or other bodily fluids from an infected person. Hepatitis B also causes your liver to swell. At first you might not feel any symptoms with hepatitis B infection, but possible symptoms include:

  • Dark-colored urine

  • Fatigue

  • Fever

  • Headaches

  • Nausea or poor appetite

  • Pain beneath the right side of your ribcage

  • Sore muscles and joints

  • Yellow skin and eyes

Hepatitis B is often short-lived, or acute. The only treatment you may need is rest, fluids, and a healthy diet without alcohol. However, long-term or chronic hepatitis B can be serious and may require treatment with medication. This can help prevent complications, such as liver failure, serious scarring of your liver (cirrhosis), and liver cancer.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a serious liver infection. You can get it from blood that contains the virus. This can happen by sharing needles. Hepatitis C might not cause symptoms for many decades. In time, though, it can lead to the following symptoms:

  • Appearance of thin blood vessels under your skin

  • Dark-colored urine

  • Easy bruising and bleeding

  • Fatigue or confusion

  • Itchy skin

  • Poor appetite or weight loss

  • Swollen legs and abdomen

  • Yellow skin and eyes

Antiviral drugs can treat hepatitis C. If it goes untreated for many years, you can develop serious complications. These include cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure.

Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease occurs when too much fat builds up in your liver. This affects how well your liver works. Fatty liver disease can develop in people who drink too much alcohol. However, the nonalcoholic type affects people who don't drink. Experts do not exactly know what causes this type. They do know you are more likely to develop it if you:

  • Are insulin-resistant

  • Are obese

  • Have certain health conditions

  • Have high blood sugar

  • Have too much fat in your blood

Usually there are no symptoms, but you might have fatigue, swelling of your liver, and pain in the upper right part of your abdomen. Treatment usually involves losing weight through diet, exercise, and sometimes weight-loss surgery. The most common complication is cirrhosis.

Hemochromatosis

Hemochromatosis is a genetic disease. It causes too much iron to build up in the liver and other organs. This extra iron damages the liver. Possible symptoms include fatigue, joint pain, low sex drive, and problems with your heart.

Untreated hemochromatosis causes serious complications. These problems can affect sexual function and reproductive health. Joint damage, organ damage—especially to the liver and pancreas—and hormonal problems can occur.

To treat hemochromatosis, doctors remove blood from your body on a regular basis to help keep your iron levels in check.

Wilson's Disease

Wilson's disease is a rare genetic condition. It causes a buildup of copper in your liver and other organs. Symptoms include:

  • Easy bruising

  • Fatigue

  • Poor appetite

  • Speech and swallowing difficulties

  • Stiff muscles or difficulty controlling movements

  • Swollen legs and abdomen

  • Yellowing of your skin and eyes

Treatment for Wilson's disease involves taking medications to help your body get rid of the extra copper. Complications can include cirrhosis and liver failure, as well as problems with your kidneys, nervous system, and mental health.

Gilbert's Syndrome

Gilbert's syndrome is another inherited condition, but one that is not harmful. It prevents the liver from correctly processing bilirubin—a substance created when red blood cells break down. The main symptom of too much bilirubin is jaundice—yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes.

Gilbert's syndrome usually does not need treatment. Bilirubin levels may sometimes rise and then go back to normal on their own. Jaundice may come and go on its own too. Gilbert's syndrome doesn't usually cause complications.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Jun 5
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