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Is My Liver Healthy? Quiz Yourself

liver health cartoon

The liver is a dark red-brown organ that weighs around 3 pounds and sits in the upper right side of the abdomen, above the stomach. It plays an essential role in hundreds of critical functions in the body, from making bile to digesting food to fighting infections, detoxifying blood, helping the blood clot, regulating blood sugar levels, and maintaining hormonal balance. Several factors, such as heavy alcohol use, an unhealthy diet, being obese, and certain medications, can affect liver health. 

The liver can be afflicted by various medical conditions such as hepatitis (liver inflammation), alcoholic hepatitis, viral hepatitis, cirrhosis, and chronic liver disease.

Please continue reading to find out the signs and symptoms of liver diseases. Also, learn what you can do to keep your liver healthy.

What are the signs and symptoms of hepatitis C and fatty liver disease?

Some 100 million Americans have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. In addition, around 2.5 million people in the U.S. are living with hepatitis C, and some 900,000 have hepatitis B. Approximately 4.5 million Americans have chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. 

While these figures are staggering, around half of all people with underlying liver disease have no symptoms. Liver disease frequently remains undetected because of many nonspecific common symptoms, such as itching, lack of energy, tiredness, loss of appetite, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and low sex drive. 

However, some signs and symptoms of liver disease and liver failure are more easily recognizable, such as yellowing of the eyes and skin, bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract, pale stools, dark urine, fluid retention, and mental confusion.

If you have any of these symptoms, it is very important to get healthcare professionals’ advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

What affects liver function?

Alcohol

Drinking too much alcohol can damage the liver and lead to alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD). Continued heavy drinking can lead to alcoholic hepatitis, permanent scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), and ultimately, liver failure. However, if you stop drinking or lower your alcohol intake to safe levels, the liver can repair itself.

Weight

Being obese or overweight can cause a condition called fatty liver disease or nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The risk is higher in people with other medical conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, type 2 diabetes, smoking, and very little or no exercise. NAFLD can cause permanent liver damage if left untreated over the years.

Drugs

Certain drugs, such as over-the-counter pain medicines like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin, can cause serious liver damage at high doses. These medications should not be used to treat hangover symptoms because if alcohol is still present in the body, it can interfere with liver function and cause possible side effects. Other drugs like antibiotics, statins (cholesterol-lowering medicines), antivirals, antifungals, and steroids can also impact liver cells. Always consult a doctor before taking any medication. If a medication can affect liver function, your doctor may order lab tests periodically to keep an eye on your liver. 

Diet

Certain foods like saturated fats, trans fats, refined carbohydrates, sugary foods, and foods with a high salt content can make it harder for the liver to do its job. Over time, this can lead to inflammation of the liver (hepatitis), which can cause scarring (cirrhosis).

How do doctors check liver function?

Doctors check if the liver is functioning properly by measuring the level of certain substances in the blood. This includes proteins (albumin, globulin, total protein), liver enzymes (ALT, AST, GGT), and bilirubin (a pigment that is left over when blood cells break down). Liver function tests help detect signs of inflammation, infection, scarring, and other types of liver damage. 

How can I check my liver health at home?

Your liver works hard to keep you healthy. When you drink excessive amounts of alcohol, eat an unhealthy diet, do not exercise, or acquire viral infections, the liver can develop its own health problems. 

As mentioned, many people are symptom-free or have nonspecific symptoms and do not know they have liver disease. This puts them at risk of serious illness, including liver failure and an increased risk of liver cancer. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the signs that your liver could be in trouble. You should see your doctor if you notice any of the following problems:

  • Fluid retention: This is a common sign in people with liver disease, such as cirrhosis (scar tissue in the liver). It can manifest as a distended abdomen or swelling in the legs. 
  • Jaundice: A dark urine and/or a yellowish tint to the skin and whites of the eyes is a sign of liver disease.
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding: Vomiting blood or seeing blood in the stool can be signs of liver disease.
  • Mental symptoms: In people with chronic liver disease, the liver cannot filter toxins, which can travel to the brain. This can lead to hepatic encephalopathy which may cause symptoms such as confusion, memory problems, lethargy, even coma.

Is my liver OK?

The only way to know if your liver is working well is to be checked out by a healthcare professional. Your doctor will evaluate you based on your symptoms and physical examination. They will provide medical advice as to further testing, which may include liver function tests. 

Your healthcare provider may advise you to get regular checks of your liver function if you are a heavy drinker, you have diabetes, you are overweight or obese, have high triglyceride levels, or have high blood pressure. 

If the liver function tests are abnormal or out of range, your doctor may order further tests such as an ultrasound scan or biopsy to check for liver damage.

How do I make sure my liver is healthy?

To ensure the long-term health of your liver, you should:

  • Drink alcohol in moderation.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese.
  • Exercise at least 5 days a week for 30 minutes each day.
  • Eat a healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber foods and low in processed foods and refined sugars.
  • Be careful with medication intake and don’t abuse medications.

The good news is that liver disease can take years to develop. If you can catch it early enough, the liver can repair itself, and you can avoid permanent liver damage.

References:

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/liver-disease.htm
  2. https://liverfoundation.org/for-patients/about-the-liver/diseases-of-the-liver/non-alcoholic-fatty-liver-disease/#:
  3. https://www.hhs.gov/hepatitis/learn-about-viral-hepatitis/data-and-trends/index.html#
  4. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/4-signs-your-liver-is-in-trouble-and-tips-to-protect-it/