Liver Disease

The liver is a vital organ that sits under the ribcage on the right side. It carries out many important functions including metabolism of protein and carbohydrate, detoxification, synthesis of clotting factors, and storage of vitamins and nutrients. Many patients have no symptoms and abnormal liver function tests are often detected by G.P.s doing routine blood tests.  Other patients may complain of yellowing of the white part of the eye or skin (jaundice), itch, dark urine, pale stool, tiredness, sleepiness or pain from an inflamed swollen liver.

The liver can become unwell within a very short time period (acute) or gradually over a longer period of months or years (chronic). Many factors may cause a healthy liver to become unwell, such as alcohol, drugs (including prescription drugs, recreational drugs, and alternative and herbal medicine), viruses, infiltration by fat, tumour, congestion by fluid or blood and hereditary illnesses.

We will usually investigate with blood tests to look for specific causes of liver disease and an ultrasound of the liver. The liver may be inflamed (hepatitis), scarred (fibrosis) or severely scarred (cirrhosis). Treatment is usually supportive and by removing the offending factor (such as alcohol or drug).  Some conditions require very specific treatment such as steroids or antiviral therapy.

One of most common liver conditions is fatty infiltration of the liver. This condition is more recently recognized and parallels the increasing phenomenon of obesity and type two diabetes. Recognizing liver early is crucial- the liver has a unique capacity for regeneration, that is, near-complete recovery. This is only possible if the liver cells are still viable and generally before the onset of cirrhosis.