Chronic liver disease is a type of liver disease that involves progressive damage to the liver, leading to reduced liver function. There are a number of different potential causes of liver disease and symptoms that may be experienced. While there is no cure, the condition can be managed by making lifestyle changes and monitoring for complications.
The most common cause of chronic liver disease is long term abuse of alcohol. Long term Hepatitis C infection is the second most common cause. Chronic liver disease can also be caused by some medications, chemical exposure, diabetes, Hepatitis B, problems with the blood vessels or bile ducts in the liver, autoimmune disorders, iron and copper related metabolic disorders, and other disorders.
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The classic symptoms of chronic liver disease include nausea and vomiting, pain in the upper abdomen on the right side, and jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin and/or eyes. Other symptoms may occur, such as fatigue, weakness, impotence or low sex drive, weight loss, gynecomastia or breast swelling in men, or red spider-like veins visible on the skin. Many people have no symptoms, particularly in the early stages of liver disease, so people who chronically use alcohol or have hepatitis should be tested for liver problems.
Cirrhosis can develop as the end result of chronic liver disease, which is when the healthy liver tissue is destroyed and replaced with scar tissue. This decreases the functional ability of the liver because scar tissue cannot function like normal liver cells. If a patient has very advanced cirrhosis, he or she may be considered for a liver transplant.
People who have any chronic liver disease should make certain lifestyle changes to prevent further damage to the liver, avoid worsening health, and prolong life. The most important of these is stopping alcohol consumption. Patients may need support to do this, such as rehabilitation programs or peer support groups. Avoiding salt consumption as much as possible and eating a healthy diet are other important lifestyle modifications.
The damage done by chronic liver disease is irreversible because the scar tissue cannot be healed. Complications may arise, particularly if the disease has progressed into severe cirrhosis. These may include bleeding, infection, malnutrition, and confusion and decreased cognitive function. Treatments are available for complications, and the most appropriate treatments will depend on the particular patient and the cause of the liver disease. The doctor treating a particular patient needs to know about all other medical conditions and all medications taken, including over the counter and prescription drugs, vitamins, herbal supplements, and recreational drugs.