The liver is a vital organ which performs many complex functions e.g.
- fighting infection;
- dealing with poisons and drugs;
- filtering and cleaning the blood;
- controlling cholesterol levels;
- producing and maintaining the balance of hormones;
- producing the chemicals responsible for blood clotting and tissue repair;
- processing digested food;
- producing bile to break food down;
- storing energy;
- storing sugar, vitamins and minerals.
It is the largest solid organ in the body and is the only one organ that can renew itself. Having said that, there are many liver disorders and here are some of the most common –
- Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)
- Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
- Gallstones (which gather wherever there is bile, usually in the gall bladder),
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
- Cancer of the liver
- Primary Biliary Cholangitis (which destroys medium sized bile ducts within the liver)
- Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (where the bile ducts progressively decrease in size)
- Haemochromatosis (iron overload)
- Wilson’s Disease (where the body cannot control copper levels)
- Biliary Atresia (causing an obstruction of bile flow in babies).
Having any of the above conditions could mean that your body will display certain symptoms and some of these are detailed below –
- fatigue and weakness
- nausea and vomiting
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- itchy skin
- jaundice (discoloured skin)
- pain in the abdomen (right upper quadrant).
- the liver may become damaged to the point where it cannot remove waste products, these are then carried to the brain. When this happens, symptoms range from minor memory lapses, slurred speech and confusion to – in severe cases – unconsciousness. This is known as hepatic encephalopathy.
It would be important that you contact your GP to have tests carriesd out should you feel it necessary. The liver is a very robust organ and that means that sometimes it is in poor shape well before the patient is aware that anything is wrong. Symptoms often take their time before revealing themselves, so patients can often become very ill very quickly.