You might call the liver the body’s Smart Organ. It takes everything we have ingested and sends it in the right direction as waste or fuel. It metabolizes medications. It takes excess sugar up from the bloodstream, and If the blood sugar drops too low, it releases it again. The liver breaks down and recycles damaged blood cells, and it releases the factors that are important for the blood’s ability to clot. And that’s just scratching the surface of all of its daily tasks.
How can the liver’s proper function be disrupted?
With so many important functions happening in the liver, we must take anything that can damage it seriously. Some of the more common causes of liver disease include:
- Overconsumption of alcohol
- Illicit drug use
- Infections like hepatitis B and C
- Genetic diseases and cancer.
Maintaining a well-balanced diet, consuming alcohol in moderation or not at all, avoiding illicit drug use, staying up to date with immunizations, and practicing safe sexual practices will go a long way toward preventing these issues.
What does it look like when the liver isn’t working?
When the liver’s function is disrupted, there are multiple signs and symptoms that may result. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
Jaundice. Yellow discoloration of the skin and the white parts of the eyes is a result of the build-up of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin comes from broken-down red blood cells, and when the liver is damaged, it can’t process the bilirubin quickly enough. It builds up in the bloodstream and deposits in the skin.
Dark urine. The build-up of bilirubin can also spill over into the urine, causing the urine to turn a dark, brownish color.
Swollen abdomen or lower legs. Liver damage can result in increased pressure when blood flows out of the liver. The blood backs up causing fluid retention in the ankles and lower leg (edema), and abdomen (ascites).
Bruising. A damaged liver may not release appropriate amounts of clotting factors for the blood. This makes bruising for no obvious reason a common sign of liver disease.
Bleeding. The increased pressure mentioned above can also cause veins in the esophagus and stomach to become enlarged and potentially bleed. When bleeding does occur, it may be life-threatening, particularly when clotting factors are low.
Malnutrition. As the damaged liver isn’t processing digested food properly, it may keep the body from getting essential nutrients.
Confusion. When the liver can’t clear toxins, they can accumulate in the brain, causing confusion, slurred speech, and sleepiness. This is known as hepatic encephalopathy.
The liver is a remarkable organ, and if damage is caught early enough it may be possible to reverse it depending on the cause. However, if the damage is too extensive, the only treatment available may be liver transplant. If you have any signs of liver disease, see your physician, so it can be addressed as early as possible.