Let’s review some of the most common liver diseases and gallbladder-related diseases that can affect the liver:
- Liver failure
- Hepatocellular carcinoma
- Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis
- Hepatic encephalopathy
- Wilson’s disease
- Gilbert’s syndrome
- Gallstones and cholecystitis
Liver failure reflects a loss of liver function. Many pathological processes can lead to liver failure, but 80–90% of liver parenchyma must be destroyed before liver failure manifests clinically.
Ascites is the buildup of fluid in the abdomen secondary to liver failure. The most serious complication of ascites is spontaneous bacterial peritonitis, which is an infection of the ascitic fluid.
Hepatitis is an injury to the liver parenchyma, which is composed mainly of hepatocytes. Hepatitis is associated with an influx of inflammatory cells into the liver.
Hepatitis can be caused by a viral infection, autoimmune disease, or can be secondary to drug (both legal and illegal) and alcohol use.
Cirrhosis refers to a progressive, fibrosing, nodular condition that disrupts the normal architecture of the liver. Any chronic insult to the liver such as alcoholism, drug use, or viral hepatitis can cause cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis can result in portal hypertension, which is high blood pressure in the portal vein. The most serious complication of portal hypertension is variceal bleeding within the digestive tract.
Hepatocellular carcinoma is a primary liver cancer. It often occurs in patients who contracted hepatitis B or C and developed chronic cirrhosis which eventually became cancerous.
Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis is a term used to describe liver inflammation and damage that is caused by an accumulation of fat in the liver. It is commonly associated with obesity. This condition can also lead to cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma.
Hepatic encephalopathy is a decline in brain function that occurs as a result of severe liver disease. When the liver cannot adequately remove toxins, the buildup of toxins causes brain damage. This may present as an altered level of consciousness and neuromuscular disturbances such as a flapping tremor (known as asterixis).
Wilson’s disease is a genetic disorder associated with excess copper buildup in the brain and liver.
Gilbert’s syndrome is a genetic disorder where the liver does not properly process bilirubin which results in jaundice.
Cholestasis is a condition where bile builds up in the liver and impairs liver function. The buildup is due to impaired release from the liver cells (e.g., intrahepatic) or obstruction of the flow through the hepatic or common bile ducts (e.g., extrahepatic).
Gallstones and cholecystitis
Gallstones are hardened deposits of bile that form in the gallbladder. They can obstruct the bile ducts and the flow of bile. Cholecystitis is inflammation of the gallbladder and is often due to gallstones blocking the cystic duct.
Cholangitis is inflammation of the bile duct system, usually caused by a bacterial infection. Cholangitis can occur because of an autoimmune disease (e.g., primary sclerosing cholangitis or primary biliary cholangitis) or a gallstone obstructing the bile ducts.
This sums up some of the most common liver diseases you’ll encounter. Check out our other articles to learn how to take a good medical history when assessing liver function.
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