As specialists in digestive health, our physicians are committed to providing comprehensive care and treatment for our patients. That extends beyond gastrointestinal issues and includes liver conditions as well.
Hepatology, the area of medicine that focuses on liver diseases, is an important part of every GI practice and is an essential area of expertise for our practice. While some liver conditions are largely impacted by genetics, there are active ways to maintain a healthy liver. As with most aspects of health, we believe that prevention is always more effective than treatment.
About the Liver
The liver is one of the largest – and most important – organs in the body. About the size of a football, the liver is located on the right side of the body underneath the rib cage. It plays a critical role in digestion and also filters toxins out of the blood.
Keeping Your Liver Healthy
Cleaning and purifying the body is hard work, so it is important to take care of the liver in order to make sure it stays healthy through the years, primarily by avoiding things that can harm it. Most importantly, this means avoiding alcohol, maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and moderating your intake of certain medications. Alcohol consumption, over time, can lead to swelling and scarring of the liver, which can result in cirrhosis, a condition that can eventually cause the liver to fail, which is often life-threatening. Being overweight or obese can cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which can also lead to cirrhosis. Overall health can be improved by maintaining a health liver through a proactive approach.
While liver disorders or disease do not always result in noticeable symptoms, there are some signs that may occur, including:
- Skin and eyes that appear yellowish (jaundice)
- Abdominal swelling
- Swelling in the legs and ankles
- Itchy skin
- Dark urine color
- Pale stool color
- Chronic fatigue
- Sleep disturbance or confusion
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Tendency to bruise easily
In addition to heavy alcohol use and obesity, there are other factors that can increase
the risk of liver disease:
- Blood transfusion before 1992
- Exposure to certain chemicals or toxins
- Exposure to other people's blood and body fluids
- Family history of liver disease
- Injecting drugs using shared needles
- Tattoos or body piercings without proper sanitation
- Type 2 diabetes
- Unprotected sex
In addition to avoiding the factors (previous FAQ) that increase risk, there are a few other tips to help prevent liver disease:
- If you’ve had hepatitis or are at increased risk of contracting it, talk to your doctor about getting the hepatitis A and B vaccines.
- Only take prescription and nonprescription medicine as needed and only in the prescribed doses.
- Do not mix alcohol and medications and talk to your doctor before using any herbal supplements.
- Before you eat or prepare food, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly.