There is a wide range of treatment options for liver disease in Malaysia and in the region. But how do you know whether you have the disease? Fortunately, there are signs and symptoms.
Liver disease refers to a collection of conditions, disorders, and infections affecting the cells, tissues, structures, or functions of the liver. Before proceeding to the signs and symptoms of liver disease, let us first understand what does the liver do.
Located on the upper right part of the abdomen, it performs the following main functions: (a) filters the blood by converting waste products into urea; (b) produces bile (stored in gallbladder) that is required for digestion of fat; (c) converts sugar into glycogen for storage, and vice-versa, as and when necessary; (d) makes amino acids which are the building blocks of proteins; (e) stores iron, copper, vitamins A and D, and several of the B vitamins; (f) produces blood-clotting factors; (g) breaks down medications for distribution to various parts of the body; and (h) helps to break down and recycle red blood cells.
When something goes wrong with your liver, its functions are disrupted. It may come as a surprise to you that there are almost one hundred types of liver diseases. Nevertheless, there are several classic signs and symptoms when your liver is injured:
Jaundice is considered the primary sign of liver disease. When you are afflicted with jaundice, the colour of your skin turns into pale yellow or orange, including the white part of your eyes. The cause is an elevated bilirubin concentration in the blood. (Bilirubin is a brown yellowish substance found in bile). If the jaundice is accompanied by flu-like symptoms, then a medical test is mandatory to check whether the gall bladder or liver has been infected.
Poor Digestion and Appetite
Another common sign of liver disease is a loss of appetite, resulting in weight loss. The condition can be aggravated by incorrect metabolism of the carbohydrate, proteins and fat – the body becomes weak eventually.
Another important symptom is pale-coloured or grey stools. In contrast, stools from a healthy person are dark in colour. Pale-coloured stools indicate insufficient production of bile or that it is not flowing to the intestines because of a blockage of the bile duct by stones, scarring or inflammation.
The patient may also complain of irregular bowel movements.
Watch out for swelling beneath the lower ribs on the right side of the abdomen. Severe distention may cause pain during breathing because of pressure on the diaphragm.
Thirst and Urination
Thirst that seemingly cannot be quenched by drinking fluids and water and frequent urination are also indicators of liver disease.
Other General Symptoms
Several other general symptoms of liver problem are: (a) headache, (b) recurring skin problems, (c) allergy, (d) dizziness, (e) tinnitus, (f) spasms and tremors, (g) redness and itchiness of eyes, (h) irritability, (g) tension and pain in the back, (h) depression and mood swings.
Early diagnosis of liver disease is essential for preventing disease progression and, eventually, liver failure. A diagnosis by a doctor is perhaps the best way to find out if a person is suffering from a liver disease. Several tests are available, such as:
(a) liver function tests to check a wide variety of liver enzymes and byproducts — usually a series of test is needed as a single test is not completely accurate.
(b) a complete blood count which looks at the type and number of blood cells in the body.
(b) abdominal X-rays.
(c) ultrasound imaging that shows whether the liver is swollen.
(d) magnetic resonance elastography to measure liver stiffness; it combines magnetic resonance imaging with low-frequency sound waves to create a visual map, or elastogram, of the internal organ’s elasticity.
(f) using an endoscope to view various structures in and around the liver.
(g) liver biopsy — tissue from the liver is removed and tested.
(h) genetic tests to screen family members for inherited liver diseases.