Liver Disease
Last Edited: April 10th, 2012

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Liver Disease

The liver's main function is to filter impurities from the blood. The liver also aids in the digestion and absorption of all ingested substances, including food and medications. When the liver is unable to perform one or more of these tasks, liver disease occurs. There are many different types of liver disease, with varying causes, symptoms and treatments.

Types of Liver Disease

Liver disease is often categorized into five main types: viral, genetic, autoimmune and alcoholic.

Viral Liver Disease

Viral liver diseases include hepatitis A, B, C, D, E and G. These conditions are most often caused by the transfer of a virus through blood or other bodily fluids. Hepatitis A, B and C are the most common types of this disease, and are leading causes of cirrhosis and cancer of the liver.

Genetic Liver Diseases

Many types of liver disease are genetic. Hereditary liver diseases can often skip generations, but can also affect consecutive generations of family members. Genetic liver diseases can range in their severity from extremely mild to potentially fatal, and include the following disorders:

  • Wilson's disease
  • Gilbert's syndrome
  • Dubin-Johnson syndrome
  • Primary oxalosis
  • Hereditary hemochromatosis
  • Familial amyloidosis
  • Crigler-Najjar syndrome
  • Alpha-1 Antitrypsin deficiency
Autoimmune Liver Disease

Autoimmune liver disorders occur when the body's immune system begins to attack the liver. These types of disorders often progress slowly, and are often treatable if a diagnosis is made in a timely manner. Types of autoimmune liver disease include the follwoing conditions:

  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis
Alcoholic Liver Disease

Alcoholic liver disease is any condition of the liver that is caused by the consumption of alcohol. The following types of liver disease are often caused by prolonged alcohol abuse

  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis
  • Fatty Liver Disease

Symptoms of Liver Disease

Liver disease may present some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Discoloration or yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
  • Pain and swelling in the abdomen
  • Chronic fatigue or exhaustion
  • Bloody or discolored stool
  • Dark urine
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite

Causes of Liver Disease

While some liver diseases are hereditary or otherwise unpreventable, many are caused by unhealthy and unsafe lifestyle choices such as the following:

  • Drug and Alcohol Use One of the liver's main functions is to filter toxins from the blood. Repeated drug and alcohol use can prevent the liver from purifying the body's blood supply, which can lead to cirrhosis, certain forms of hepatitis and other types of liver disease.
  • Obesity Obesity is a leading cause of fatty liver disease, which can lead to cirrhosis and other complications.
  • Contact with Bodily Fluids The exchange of infected body fluids, either through unprotected sex, shared intravenous needles and jobs in the medical field can cause hepatitis A, B and C.


Treatment for liver disease depends on many factors, including type and progression of disease, as well as individual factors such as age and general health. In some cases, liver disease can go away on its own. Other methods for treating liver disease include the following:

  • Antiviral medications
  • Chemotherapy
  • Surgery
  • Resection of the liver
  • Transplant