The liver is a reddish-brown, rubbery organ located on the right side of the belly, protected by the ribcage. Weighing an average of 1.5 kg, the liver is a crucial part of several body functions. It produces bile required for food digestion, and in particular, fat. Extra glucose is stored as glycogen by the liver and is converted back to glucose when the body needs it. The liver produces blood-clotting factors and amino acids required for making proteins and fighting infections. It processes and stores iron required for red blood cell (RBC) production and manufactures cholesterol and other chemicals required to transport fat. The liver also converts waste products of the body’s metabolism into urea to be excreted through urine.
Liver disease, otherwise known as hepatic disease, is a disturbance to the function of the liver. Given the vitality of the liver in numerous body functions, any disturbance to the liver has repercussions across the body.
Types of Liver Diseases:
- Cirrhosis: It is the scarring of liver tissues from alcohol use. Though the liver regenerates, it usually results in the development of scar tissue. Therefore, the liver finds it difficult to carry out its functions.
- Liver Failure: Acute liver failure happens due to an overdose or poisoning. Chronic liver failure happens when a significant part of the liver is damaged and cannot function properly. Chronic liver failure is serious and requires ongoing treatment.
- Hepatitis: It is a viral infection of the liver, causing inflammation and liver damage. Though it is contagious, the risk of contracting hepatitis can be reduced through vaccination (for types A and B) or by taking preventive steps. The types of hepatitis are as follows:
- Hepatitis A: It is typically spread through contact with contaminated food and water and spreads primarily through the fecal-oral route. Though the symptoms may clear up without treatment, recovery may take a few weeks.
- Hepatitis B: It can be acute or chronic and is spread through bodily fluids like blood and semen. Though it is treatable, there is no cure for it. Therefore, early treatment is vital to avoid complications.
- Hepatitis C: It is spread through contact with the blood of someone with hepatitis C. Though there may not be symptoms in the initial stages, it can cause permanent liver damage in the later stages.
- Hepatitis D: It develops only in individuals with hepatitis B and can be acute or chronic.
- Hepatitis E: It is caused by the consumption of contaminated food and water. It clears out after a few weeks without any lasting complications.
- Fatty Liver Diseases: The build-up of fat causes these in the liver. There are two types of fatty liver diseases:
- Alcoholic fatty liver disease: It is caused by heavy alcohol consumption.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: The cause of the disease is not yet ascertained.
- Autoimmune Conditions: These are the conditions where the immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy cells, including the ones in the liver. Common autoimmune conditions affecting the liver are:
- Autoimmune hepatitis: It causes the immune system to attack the liver, causing inflammation, leading to cirrhosis or liver failure if left untreated.
- Primary Biliary Cirrhosis (PBC): This results from the build-up of bile due to the damage of the bile ducts. It can lead to eventual cirrhosis and liver failure.
- Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis: This is an inflammatory condition of the liver, causing gradual damage and eventual blocking of the bile ducts. As a result, bile starts building up in the liver, causing cirrhosis or liver failure.
- Genetic Conditions: These are medical conditions inherited from the family. The most common genetic conditions affecting the liver are:
- Hemochromatosis: It causes the body to store more iron than what is required, which remains in the organs, including the liver, causing long-term damage.
- Wilson’s Disease: This causes the liver to absorb copper instead of releasing it into the bile ducts, leading to the accumulation of copper in the liver. After a certain point, the accumulated copper is let into the bloodstream, damaging other body parts, including the brain.
- Alpha-1 antitrypsin (AT) Deficiency: AT is a protein produced by the liver to prevent the breakdown of enzymes throughout the body. AT deficiency may cause liver disease. It tends to be dealt with, yet there is no fix.
- Budd-Chiari Syndrome: This is a condition where blood clots are in the hepatic vein, preventing blood from leaving the liver. It can increase the pressure within the liver’s blood vessels, causing them to die, and then leads to cirrhosis.
- Congestive heart failure: An improperly functioning heart forces fluid and blood to back up in the body’s large veins, causing liver swelling and inflammation.
- Gallstones: They obstruct the flow of bile through bile ducts from the liver, causing inflammation.
Common symptoms for liver disease include:
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Itchy skin
- Dark urine color
- Bloody stool
- Easy bruising
- Loss of appetite
Who is at risk?
People who engage in the following activities are at a greater risk of contracting the liver disease:
- Men who have more than fifteen alcoholic drinks and women who have eight alcoholic drinks a week
- Sharing needles
- Working at a job with exposure to blood and other bodily fluids
- Engaging in sexual intercourse without using protection against sexually transmitted diseases
- Have diabetes or high cholesterol
- Have a family history of liver disease
- Are overweight
- Are exposed to toxins and pesticides
- Consuming certain supplements in large amounts
- Blending certain meds in with liquor or taking more than the suggested portion of specific prescriptions.
People with any of the above symptoms who are doubtful about their possibility of having the liver disease are expected to visit a doctor as early as possible. The doctor would ask for the patient’s medical history, his/her family history of liver diseases, and the symptoms he/she is having. Based on the symptoms, the doctor would ask the patient about his/her eating and drinking habits, prescriptions, and consumption of vitamins and supplements, if any.
Based on the information gathered, the doctor would recommend liver function tests, complete blood count tests, CT scans, MRIs and ultrasounds to check for liver damage and a liver biopsy if needed.
Precautions against Liver Disease
- Avoiding alcohol consumption
- Avoiding illicit intravenous drugs
- Not engaging in sexual intercourse without protection (condoms)
- Ensuring that the highest hygiene and safety standards are followed when tattoos and body piercings are done
- Getting vaccinated for hepatitis A and B
- Handling chemicals like fungicides, paints, and insecticides containing toxic substances with care
- Including lots of fiber with reduced amounts of fat, sugar, and salt in the diet.
- Exercising regularly to prevent obesity, which causes non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases
- Drinking more water
Hepakast is a combination of three branched-chain-amino-acids (BCAAs) that compensate for the protein deficiency in the body. The absence of BCAAs weakens the immune system, which leads to cognitive impairment and deterioration of the mental state of patients. It is prescribed for patients with liver cirrhosis, hepatic encephalopathy, hepatitis B and C, and steatohepatitis as BCAAs cannot be absorbed from food by people with cirrhosis and liver failure.
Hepakast inhibits the death of liver cells, produces albumin and glycogen, which are used in metabolic processes, cuts down the growth of cancerous liver cells, matures the nerve cell processes, speeds up the synthesis of lymphocytes, and decreases liver cell replacement with fibrous tissue. Hepakast medicine restores the liver functions, prevents hepatic failure, refines muscle mass, improves clinical outcomes of patients with advanced cirrhosis, and revitalizes patients’ quality of life and survival.
Common side-effects from consuming Hepakast include loss of coordination, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and bloating. A patient may have high blood pressure, headaches, and skin whitening after consuming Hepakast.