Liver damage is not a condition to be taken lightly as it can lead to many complications.
With its wide range of functions, your liver should be kept in tip-top condition especially since most liver diseases cannot be cured, only managed to prevent progression. Let’s look at the potential complications of liver damage.
Cirrhosis, a state when liver tissue is extensively replaced b fibrous scar tissue. Over time, it leads to poor blood flow in the liver, greatly reducing its ability to perform its functions. Historically it’s caused by chronic alcohol consumption, but is now increasingly due to lifestyle diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease. Chronic hepatitis B and C are also recognized causes.
One of the main functions of the liver is to detoxify dangerous substances and safely excrete them from the body. When diseased, the liver cannot perform this function, so toxins build up in the bloodstream. Hepatic encephalopathy is an altered mental state due to accumulation of toxins. Untreated, it leads to poor concentration, disorientation, sepsis and even coma.
Portal Hypertension and Bleeding
The portal venous system is a group of veins that merge into the portal vein and branch out into the liver. Frequent insults to the liver promote scar tissue formation or fibrosis. This makes it difficult for blood to flow through the liver, thus increasing the pressure in the portal veins – causing portal hypertension. To counter this, blood is sent through smaller blood vessels called collateral vessels, much like motorists taking to side streets to avoid a congested highway. The smaller streets, however, will eventually crowd beyond their capacity, in the same way, collateral vessels may not be able to withstand the pressure and burst, causing internal bleeding.
Carriers of hepatitis B or C and individuals with cirrhosis are at an increased risk of developing liver cancer. However, the commonest cause is metastasis, or the spread of cancer cells to the liver from other parts of the body like the breast, colon or lung. Regular blood testing or liver ultrasonography are recommended for those with liver disease to catch liver cancer early.
Infections and Bleeding
Another main function of the liver is to produce proteins for antibodies or clotting factors. Hence, liver disease can lead to a weakened immune system – increasing risk of infections – or make patients prone to uncontrolled bleeding.
Proteins are necessary to keep fluids in their respective cell compartments. If the liver is no longer able to produce proteins to maintain this balance, abdominal swelling or distension – common in portal hypertension – ensues. In some patients, there is peripheral edema or swelling of lower limbs.