Liver is the largest organ in your body and weighs about 1.25 kg. It lies in the upper right side of your abdomen situated mostly under the lower ribs. The normal liver is soft and smooth and is connected to the small intestine by the bile duct which carries bile formed in the liver to the intestines. Nearly all of the blood that leaves the stomach and intestines must pass through the liver. Acting as the body’s largest chemical factory it performs a number of vital metabolic functions including detoxification. It is no wonder that liver disease can cause widespread disruption of body function.
Liver may get diseased from viruses. Different viruses termed A, B, C, D, E & G cause viral hepatitis. Nearly 40 million people in our country suffer from hepatitis and some eventually develop chronic damage to the liver causing a serious disease called cirrhosis. Viral hepatitis causes "jaundice" along with fever, loss of appetite and fatigue and usually lasts 2 to 6 weeks.
Virus A and E usually spread from contaminated drinking water and cause no chronic liver damage. However, Virus B and C spread from infected blood or other body fluids, unprotected sex or intravenous drug abuse.
Treatment in acute stage is mainly rest and intake of nutritious diet while looking out for complications by means of clinical findings and blood tests. However, 5-10% of those people who are infected with B virus and nearly 80% of those infected with C virus will become carriers and may progress to chronic liver disease, cirrhosis and possibly liver cancer.
Hepatitis B is more dangerous than AIDS and thus you should protect yourself against it with a vaccine. The vaccine can be taken at any age, it is safe and effective.No vaccine is available for virus C and E but recently a vaccine for virus A has become available for use in young adults who are more prone to this illness.
Cirrhosis is a chronic disease in which normal liver cells are damaged and replaced by scar tissue. It is commonly caused by excess consumption of alcohol and types B and C hepatitis. The onset of cirrhosis is often ‘silent’ with few specific symptoms but when it is diagnosed it is often too late as liver failure has set in. The treatment is mainly aimed at stopping progression of disease and preventing complications. The only curative therapy is liver transplantation which is prohibitively expensive and not yet successful in our country.
Prevention of liver disease is possible if simple guidelines as mentioned above are followed . This will prevent many from contracting chronic liver disease which has high morbidity and mortality.
Dr. Sharat C Misra
MD, DM (Gastroenterology)
Consultant in Gastroenterology & Liver Diseases
Vardaan Hospital is a New Delhi based multi-speciality hospital