Liver disease: Types of Liver Problems & Their Causes

Dr. Sneha Ganatra
November 20, 2020

The liver is one of the most important organs in the body and is, in fact, the largest internal organ you have. It is a silent worker but is responsible for a range of tasks. The liver metabolises nutrients, produces proteins, excretes bile, removes toxins from the blood, stores iron, clears bilirubin and more. Hence, liver disease is a serious problem, so much so that a sick liver can impair brain function. Moreover, liver disease can affect anyone, not just those who lead an imprudent lifestyle, as liver disease can be passed down genetically.

By the books, there are over 100 diseases affecting the liver. However, knowing the common ones can help you identify whether you are at a risk of developing a liver disease. A little understanding about the symptoms too will help you get treatment on time and thereby avert major liver issues.

Here is a concise list of 15 common liver problems and their causes.

Types of liver disease

Based on the cause, liver diseases can be categorised into disease caused by viruses, diseases caused by substance abuse, diseases that are inherited, autoimmune conditions and so on. Accordingly, below are some common liver diseases segmented into 5 major categories: liver infections, immune system problems, cancers and tumours, genetic and hereditary, and other causes.

Liver infection

Hepatitis A: It is caused by the Hepatitis A virus that one usually gets by consuming food or water contaminated with faecal matter. It leads to liver inflammation and prevents proper liver function but goes away without treatment within a few weeks to months.

Hepatitis B: This infection is caused by the Hepatitis B virus and one normally gets it by coming into contact with an infected body fluid such as blood or semen. Like Hep A, it leads to liver inflammation and prevents proper liver function. It can clear up on its own, but it can also lead to chronic liver disease.

Hepatitis C: It is caused by the Hepatitis C virus and one gets it through contact with contaminated blood. The symptoms may be slow to show up, but Hep C can lead to permanent liver damage.

Immune system problems

Autoimmune hepatitis: This leads to liver inflammation and arises when the immune system attacks the liver. Drugs that combat the immune system can be used and, if untreated, this disease can eventually lead to liver failure.

Primary biliary cholangitis (PBC): Here, the bile ducts are injured, causing build-up of bile and toxins within the liver. The injury to the ducts may be slow but PBC can cause cirrhosis (scarring) and lead to liver failure.

Primary sclerosing cholangitis: This disease causes scarring to the bile ducts on account of inflammation. The ducts can become blocked eventually, and as in the case of PBC, bile builds up within the liver. It can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, or liver failure.

Cancers and Tumours

Liver cancer: It arises when cancer begins in the cells of the liver. The most common form is Hepatocellular Carcinoma. Chronic liver disease, Hepatitis B and C, excessive alcohol consumption, and other liver diseases may contribute towards liver cancer.

Bile duct cancer: It arises when cancer cells form in the tubes that carry bile through the liver. Bile duct cancer is rare. Colitis and other liver diseases may increase the risk of one developing this cancer.

Liver adenoma: It is characterised by the presence of a benign tumour. There is a slim chance of the tumour turning cancerous and the disease has been linked to taking birth control pills.

Genetic and hereditary

Hemochromatosis: This disorder causes your body to absorb too much iron from food. In turn, the excess iron build-up in the liver causes liver disease. If not treated, the condition can lead to cirrhosis.

Wilson’s disease: Here, there is an excess accumulation of copper in vital organs, including the liver. So, this inherited disorder can cause liver disease, but it can also lead to nerve and brain issues.

Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency: The liver makes a protein called alpha-1 antitrypsin that helps the lungs fight infections. In persons with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, however, the proteins aren’t made properly, get stuck in the liver, and do not make it to the lungs. Hence, both organs are affected.

Other causes of liver disease

Alcohol abuse: Too much consumption of alcohol causes alcoholic fatty liver disease, which can lead to inflammation and cirrhosis. In fact, overconsumption of alcohol can cause liver disease that may prove to be fatal.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): In this case there is excess fat accumulation in the liver amongst people who consume little to no alcohol. The field is still being researched but NAFLD can lead to inflammation and cirrhosis.

Medication: Certain medicines can be the cause of liver disease. Examples are methotrexate, griseofulvin and steroids. Drug-induced liver disease can arise due to anything from recreational drugs to over-the-counter medicines.

Symptoms of liver damage

When you are suffering from a liver disease you may exhibit symptoms such as:

  • Yellow eyes and skin (jaundice)
  • Dark urine
  • Swollen stomach
  • Abdominal pain
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Swollen legs and ankles
  • Itchy skin
  • Fever
  • Pale, black, or bloody stools
  • Continual fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weak appetite
  • Easy bruising
  • Diarrhoea

Not all the above are liver failure symptoms per se, but symptoms like jaundice, bleeding, swollen abdomen, abdominal pain, and mental disorientation are a cause for concern. They may indicate some degree of liver failure.

Liver disease treatment

Certain types of liver diseases, such as Hepatitis A, can be prevented with vaccination. For other liver diseases, your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes that centre around:

  • Reducing alcohol intake
  • Controlling obesity
  • Eating liver-friendly foods
  • Losing weight and exercising

For other liver diseases, you may have to undergo:

  • Medication
  • Surgery
  • Liver transplant

Maintaining a healthy liver is a lifelong task and one that is closely linked to leading a healthy lifestyle. Also, some forms of liver disease progress slowly and spotting symptoms may not be easy. Nonetheless, to get advice on living a healthy lifestyle and identifying signs of liver disease, download the Bajaj Finserv Health app and consult a relevant doctor. The app allows you to search and filter for the best doctors, partake of video conferencing, share medical records, get e-prescriptions and more. So, get a doctor on your side and make every effort to have a healthy liver!