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What Is Chronic Hepatic Disease?

By Jennifer Voight
Updated May 17, 2024
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Chronic hepatic disease refers to a family of diseases and conditions that causes destruction of liver tissue that gets progressively worse over time. Many diseases, infections, and lifestyle choices can cause chronic hepatic disease, which can manifest with a variety of symptoms. There is no cure for chronic hepatic disease, but related conditions may be treated. If allowed to continue, a liver transplant may be needed once the liver can no longer perform its intended function.

The cause of chronic hepatic disease may be a virus, an autoimmune disorder, or the result of toxins or drugs. Some of the most common viral causes are hepatitis, infectious mononucleosis, and adenovirus. Metabolic disorders like fatty liver disease and hemachromatosis can cause destruction of liver tissue and lead to chronic hepatic disease. Other inherited and autoimmune disorders, like Wilson’s disease, can lead to liver failure.

The most common cause of chronic hepatic disease in the US is alcoholism. Chronic overuse of alcohol can tax the liver and lead to cirrhosis and liver failure. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs are capable of damaging the liver over time, leading to liver disease. Some seemingly innocuous drugs, like acetaminophen, can lead to liver disease over time even when taken at recommended dosages. Liver inflammation is a common possible side effect of many drugs taken for a variety of conditions.

When the liver becomes inflamed or damaged or bile ducts are blocked, symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain can result. Jaundice is a condition that causes yellowing of the skin and eyes and indicates that the liver is not working correctly. Fatigue and weakness are other symptoms of chronic hepatic disease.

If the progression of liver disease is allowed to continue, eventually cirrhosis, or liver tissue scarring, will develop. This can cause the liver to function more slowly. Cirrhosis of the liver is an irreversible condition that can be diagnosed through blood tests or a biopsy. Complications of cirrhosis include kidney failure, increased risk of infections, and diabetes. Other changes that can occur include excessive bruising, breast enlargement in men, and premature menopause in women.

Although many of these conditions can be managed with medication, some conditions may not be reversible. Treatments vary according to the cause of hepatic liver disease and can be successful at managing many conditions long enough that a liver transplant can be avoided. If hepatic disease progresses far enough, a liver transplant may be the only option left.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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