Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Talk About It Tuesday: Coping With Liver Disease

The liver is probably the most important organ in the body. Its job is to filter out any harmful substances or toxins that we may encounter. When you think about it, the liver is the body's protector and bodyguard in that it fights for us even when we don't realize that we actually need to be fighting.

It faces nasty diseases, toxins and illnesses and endures the medications we must consume in order to get rid of those diseases and illnesses. Plus, many of us take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, which is fine occasionally but over time it can build up in the liver (as it is hard for it to filter through).

With everything going through this invaluable organ to protect us, then us taking additional medications unknowingly overwhelming things to the point the liver can no longer to it's job properly, it is no wonder we end up getting sicker. And the increase in toxicity that the liver can't process properly can cause the initial stages of liver disease.

The scarier part is that some of us are born with liver disease and don't even know it until much later as the symptoms can be very subtle and similar to other illnesses/diseases that we are just given medication for. And the cycle continues. Here are some common symptoms to watch for:

  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin
  • Pain in the abdomen, often coupled with swelling
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Dark urine (from deep yellow to almost an orange)
  • Pale, bloody or black stools
  • Swelling in the legs and ankles
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Extremely itchy skin
  • Bruising more easily
You can see how some of these symptoms can hint to other diseases or sickness, but a simple blood test of the liver enzymes can reveal cause for concern or not.

Aside from the obvious assumption that most others make, liver disease is not always caused by alcohol use alone. No, it certainly doesn't help an already failing liver (especially if you are unaware it is damaged when you are taking pills or drinking), but for some of us there are a multitude of reasons liver disease develops. The following are some other causes:
  • Infection - some viruses can be harmful and transferred from tainted blood or semen. Any of the hepatitis viruses are most harmful.
  • Abnormal immune system
  • Genetics
  • Cancer 
  • Fat build up (aka nonalcoholic fatty liver disease)
  • Malnutrition
As already mentioned, some of us were born with liver disease and not find out about it until much later in life. Still, even if you do find out, and there has been no scarring, the liver has a very special ability to re-generate itself if we avoid situations and things that put us at a greater risk. We all know to avoid alcohol but some other risk factors to be wary of include:
  • Sharing needles
  • Avoid tattoos or piercings, unless the establishment can guarantee cleanliness and has some sort of proof they have been inspected by government health
  • Being overweight or severely underweight (eg: eating disorder)
  • Diabetes
  • Exposure, either due to work or housing location, to toxins and/or chemicals
  • Unprotected sex, especially jumping around with various partners
  • If you've had a blood transfusion before 1992
Essentially, the greater care taken to prevent liver disease from progressing, the greater the chance the liver can repair itself to the point where no scarring will occur. By then, it is too late as scarring (or cirrhosis) is the onset of liver failure.

Prevent it, stop it and take good care in caring for it. Drink less (or not at all), rid yourself of risky behavior (eg: intravenous drugs, multiple sex partners, unprotected sex, etc.), ensure you are updated with your immunizations, research any medications (over-the-counter or prescribed) before taking them, avoid toxins and products containing aerosol, make sure to care for skin and watch your weight.

Liver disease is a terrifying thing to face because you don't realize until you are rather ill how important the liver truly is to our survival. As long are you are armed with information, keep on top of your health and watch for signs and symptoms, you will live a long life.

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