The 6 Most Common Liver Diseases
The liver is an essential organ in all living beings that have one, as it’s responsible for cleaning and purifying the blood, metabolizing proteins, lipids, and fats, synthesizing hormones, and helping digestion through the secretion of bile, among other things. For this reason, liver diseases that atrophy this organ can be fatal in the long term.
According to the Catalan Association of Hepatic Patients (ASSCAT), in certain European countries, the prevalence of liver diseases is 1,100 patients per 100,000 inhabitants, a quite considerable proportion. Various pathogens and bad habits can cause irreversible damage to the liver, generating a wide spectrum of symptoms.
What are the most common liver diseases?
As indicated by the United States National Library of Medicine, the term liver disease refers to a group of pathologies that prevent the organ from working, or prevent it from working well. Abdominal pain, yellowing of the skin (jaundice), and other signs are typical of chronic liver failure.
Many liver diseases find their answer in viral and bacterial agents, but many others are closely related to the patient’s lifestyle. We’ll now bring you a list of the most relevant information related to the subject.
1. Alcoholic liver cirrhosis
The World Health Organization (WHO) has told us that each year there are 3 million deaths due to alcohol consumption, that is, 5.3% of all deaths worldwide. The harmful use of alcohol causes up to 200 different pathologies.
Liver cirrhosis is undoubtedly one of the most obvious. Every time the liver is harmed – whatever the origin – the compromised hepatocytes, functional cells of the organ, are replaced by scar tissue. As this rate of healing increases, the degree of liver function decreases.
In Europe and the United States, liver cirrhosis rates are 250 cases per 100,000 people. As you may have guessed at this point, the most common cause of this type of cirrhosis is chronic alcoholism, as alcohol is harmful to the liver.
It is estimated that 12% of alcoholics will develop severe cirrhosis of the liver. This can lead to death.
Hepatitis is an inflammatory disease that affects the liver. Its cause can be infectious, immune or toxic, but the best-known variant, without a doubt, is the viral one. Here’s a list of the variants of hepatitis and their causative agents:
- Hepatitis A: This is caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). According to the Association of Foreign Health Physicians (AMSE), an estimated 1.5 million cases of hepatitis A occur annually, especially in low-income countries. Fortunately, its mortality rate is low (0.5%).
- Hepatitis B: Contagion is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV), which is usually transmitted through sexual contact. It can cause an acute or chronic disease, the latter turning in many cases into nonalcoholic cirrhosis of the liver.
- Hepatitis C: This is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It is estimated that up to 1% of the world’s population is a chronic carrier of this virus.
- In addition to this, there are more variants, ranging from D to G.
It is particularly noteworthy to discover the prevalence of hepatitis B. Of the 2 billion infections worldwide (50 million new ones every year), around 360 million are chronic carriers of the disease. Those who have the virus for more than 6 months have a higher risk of developing cirrhosis, liver cancer, and other associated pathologies.
Hepatitis B kills more than 600,000 people annually, either from the disease itself or from its consequences.
3. Liver cancer
Cancer occurs when a cell line mutates and its life cycle is disrupted, causing its uncontrolled growth. This causes the formation of the dreaded neoplastic (malignant) tumors. The subsequent migration to other tissues of the body of the cells of the primary tumor is called metastasis.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 800,000 people are diagnosed with liver cancer each year. It’s the most lethal type of cancer worldwide, killing about 700,000 patients each year.
This pathology is detected much more in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia than in the United States and Europe. Although alcoholism (cirrhosis) and lifestyle can lead to its appearance, the most widespread risk factor for this neoplasm is chronic viral hepatitis sustained for more than 6 months.
The 5-year survival rate after the diagnosis of localized liver cancer is 31%. In case this is regional, it decreases to 11%.
4. Hepatic steatosis
Also known as fatty liver, this disease may be due to chronic alcoholism or other reasons. We are going to focus on non-alcoholic hepatic steatosis (NAFLD), as we’ve already spoken enough about the damage alcohol can cause to this organ.
NAFLD has been seen in people who are overweight and obese. The incidence of this disease is increasing more and more because, as indicated by the World Health Organization, since 1975 incidences of this condition have tripled in the world. Some 625 million people on Earth are obese, which predisposes to the development of fatty liver.
The liver, under normal conditions, should contain little or no proportion of fatty tissue. Its excessive presence has been associated with an increased risk of problems such as diabetes, heart attacks, and cerebrovascular accidents (CVAs), among other things. Luckily, it’s a reversible condition with dietary changes and a healthy lifestyle.
If fat stays in the liver for too long, then the hepatocytes can become inflamed and irreversibly damaged. This pathology cannot be ignored.
5. Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC)
We are facing another illness here in which the functional cells of the liver are destroyed and replaced by scar tissue, but, in this case, alcohol is not the cause. On this occasion, liver damage occurs due to the gradual destruction of the intrahepatic bile ducts, although experts don’t know the underlying reasons.
According to the Spanish Foundation for the Digestive System (FEAD), this disease is much more common between 40 and 60 years of age, and 90% of the patients are women. Despite the fact that this disease causes typical symptoms as it progresses, 60% of cases are diagnosed in the asymptomatic phase.
6. Acute liver failure
According to the Mayo Clinic, acute liver failure is defined as the loss of liver function, which occurs suddenly, usually in patients without a history of pre-existing liver disease. Also known as acute liver failure, it can cause serious complications within days.
Some of the triggers for this serious situation are the following:
- Acetaminophen overdose: Surprisingly enough, the most common cause of acute liver failure in high-income countries is the overuse of this drug.
- Prescription drugs: A tiny percentage of the population can suffer from this disease when antibiotics and other drugs are prescribed to cure a disease.
- Hepatitis and other viruses.
- Toxins: Consuming toxic foods, such as certain mushrooms that are mistaken for edible fungi, can lead to a rapid destruction of liver tissue and chronic dysfunction.
- Autoimmune diseases: In certain pathologies, the immune cells recognize the liver tissue as a possible threat, and destroy it.
- Other causes: Cancer, metabolic diseases, septic shock, and others.
There is also another variant, chronic liver failure, which is much more common and appears gradually. Many of the pathologies already mentioned are linked to the latter.
General symptoms of liver diseases
Reading these lines may have worried you, and so we would like to devote this last section to indicate the general clinical signs that usually indicate the presence of liver diseases in patients. However, if you live in a sanitized area and lead a healthy lifestyle, you shouldn’t have too much cause for concern.
We’re going to finish the article with a list of the most common symptoms of liver failure:
- Jaundice: This is defined as a yellow coloring of the skin and eyes. This is caused by the accumulation in the tissues of bilirubin, a waste substance that is produced by breaking down hemoglobin, a hemoprotein present in red blood cells. When the liver can’t filter it, it builds up.
- Bloating and abdominal pain: This is usually due to an enlarged liver, a condition known as hepatomegaly. This isn’t a disease in itself, but a medical sign that something isn’t functioning correctly in the liver.
- Swelling in the legs and ankles: A homeostatic imbalance in the body due to poor blood filtration can cause extracellular fluid to accumulate in the legs and ankles. This is known as edema.
- Chronic fatigue and loss of appetite, symptoms that can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting.
- Easier to bruise and heavy nosebleeds.
As you can see, many of the symptoms are systemic, that is, generalized in the patient’s body. You must bear in mind that this organ filters an average of 100 liters of blood per hour (1.5 liters of blood per minute), so the body generally notices the lack of functionality in it when it happens.
The liver is the largest internal organ. Life is impossible without it and, because of this, many of the named pathologies are fatal.
The most common liver diseases: prevention and wellness
What else can we say? Most of the diseases described above are associated with either irresponsible sexual practices (in the case of hepatitis B), obesity, or alcoholism. The liver is a resistant organ, but if we subject it to continuous damage, then it ends up wearing out irreversibly.
The state of this organ is a clear indication of the patient’s lifestyle. With a healthy diet, limiting the consumption of unnecessary drugs, and minimizing alcohol intake, the risks of developing these diseases are drastically reduced.
- Carga de la enfermedad hepática en Europa: epidemiología y análisis de factores de riesgo para identificar políticas de prevención, ASSCAT. Recogido a 20 de enero en https://asscat-hepatitis.org/carga-de-la-enfermedad-hepatica-en-europa-epidemiologia-y-analisis-de-factores-de-riesgo-para-identificar-politicas-de-prevencion/
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- Hepatitis A, AMSE. Recogido a 20 de enero en https://www.amse.es/informacion-epidemiologica/106-hepatitis-a-epidemiologia-y-situacion-mundial
- Estadísticas del cáncer de hígado, American Cancer Society. Recogido a 20 de enero en https://www.cancer.org/es/cancer/cancer-de-higado/acerca/que-es-estadisticas-clave.html#:~:text=M%C3%A1s%20de%20800%2C000%20personas%20son,de%20700%2C000%20muertes%20cada%20a%C3%B1o.
- Obesidad, OMS. Recogido a 20 de enero en https://www.who.int/es/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight
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