In Germany, around five million people suffer from liver disease. The most common diseases include hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, fatty liver and liver cancer. Often, liver disease goes unnoticed for a long time, as it manifests itself at an early stage only by nonspecific symptoms such as fatigue and fatigue. We will introduce you to the most common liver diseases and reveal how you can recognize and treat them.
Causes and symptoms of liver disease
Liver diseases can have different causes. A common trigger is chronic alcohol abuse - it accounts for about half of all liver disease. In addition, however, chronic viral infections, metabolic diseases or drugs as a cause in question.
Liver disease is often recognized late because it causes significant discomfort at an advanced stage. For a long time, however, only weak and unspecific symptoms occur. These include tiredness and fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, difficulty concentrating and a feeling of pressure in the right upper abdomen.
If you continue to experience such symptoms over a long period of time, you should always think about liver disease and consult a doctor as a precautionary measure. The yellowing of the skin and mucous membranes typical of many liver diseases only occurs at an advanced stage. At the latest, if you notice this symptom, a doctor's visit is urgently needed.
In a fatty liver - as the name implies - more fat stored in the liver. Cause is usually an unhealthy lifestyle with a high-calorie diet, little exercise and a high alcohol intake. In addition, however, diseases such as diabetes or a lipid metabolism disorder as well as the intake of certain medications can lead to fatty liver.
A fatty liver only causes discomfort when the organ has already increased greatly. Then it can lead to nonspecific symptoms such as tiredness, fatigue, loss of appetite, bloating and flatulence. Likewise, a feeling of pressure may occur in the right upper abdomen.
If a fatty liver is diagnosed, a reduction in body weight and a renunciation of alcohol are of crucial importance. If this is consistently followed, liver fatty degeneration can often be reversed. If there is no change in lifestyle, the liver can become infected - this increases the risk of complications such as liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Liver inflammation (hepatitis)
In liver inflammation, a distinction is made between four known types, all of which are triggered by viruses. In addition, hepatitis can also arise as a result of fatty liver disease or by diseases such as diabetes mellitus and other metabolic diseases.
- Hepatitis A: The hepatitis A virus is transmitted by smear infection and contaminated food - especially drinking water. The infection usually heals by itself and is therefore considered relatively harmless. In old people or the chronically ill, however, it can lead to complications.
- Hepatitis B: Hepatitis B is one of the most common infectious diseases. The hepatitis B virus is transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, semen or saliva. Most often, the infection heals by itself. In rare cases, however, it can take a chronic course. It is then important to initiate therapy early enough to avoid possible long-term consequences such as liver cirrhosis.
- Hepatitis C: Infection with the hepatitis C virus occurs primarily on the bloodstream. If the infection is not detected in time, it takes in more than 50 percent of cases, a chronic course. If this is the case, the risk of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer increases.
- Hepatitis E: Hepatitis E infection is predominantly transmitted through contaminated water or contaminated food. Usually, the infection heals by itself again, especially during pregnancy, but it can also lead to complications.
There are vaccinations against hepatitis A and hepatitis B. These are especially recommended for people at risk such as medical personnel or travelers traveling in risk areas.
Cirrhosis of the liver develops as a result of permanent stress or damage to the liver. Common causes include excessive alcohol consumption and infection with hepatitis viruses. First of all, the burden on the liver leads to a still reversible increase of connective tissue in the liver. Later, liver cells are replaced by connective tissue. This process is irreversible and causes the liver to lose its functions properly.
If cirrhosis of the liver is not treated in time, serious consequences may occur, including ascites, hepatic encephalopathy, variceal hemorrhage (bleeding from varicose veins) and hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer). However, these serious consequences can be prevented or at least postponed by early therapy. However, liver cirrhosis is not curable.
Liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) is often diagnosed late, because the cancer causes no symptoms for a long time. The first signs include nausea and weight loss, as well as upper abdominal pain and jaundice. As with many other cancers, the sooner the liver cancer is detected, the better the chance of recovery.
The most common causes of liver cancer include infections with the hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus. They account for about half of all liver cancers. Another 40 percent are triggered by alcohol or overweight. Especially in this area, you can do a lot to prevent liver cancer.
Other liver diseases
In addition to the mentioned, common liver diseases, there are also other, less known:
- Autoimmune liver disease: Due to a malfunction of the immune system, the body attacks its liver cells. Diseases such as autoimmune hepatitis, primary biliary cirrhosis and primary sclerosing cholangitis are relatively rare.
- Iron storage disease: In this hereditary disease, the body stores large amounts of iron in the pancreas, heart and liver. This initially leads to a proliferation of connective tissue in the liver. Long-term consequences can be cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer.
Prevent liver disease
In order to prevent liver disease, you should pay attention to a healthy, balanced diet and consume alcohol only moderately. Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B as needed. For example, you can prevent illness when traveling to a high-risk area.
Have your liver tests checked at regular intervals. So you can quickly and safely determine if your liver is all right. Also, make sure that you repeatedly experience symptoms such as tiredness, fatigue, loss of appetite or nausea. These may be signs of liver disease.
If you experience the typical symptoms of jaundice such as yellowing of the eyes and skin, you should definitely go to the doctor. For many liver diseases early diagnosis is crucial. In contrast, if the disease is recognized very late, sometimes only a liver transplant remains as a treatment option.