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Liver disease

What does a healthy liver do?

The liver is the largest and one of the most complex organs in the body. It has many functions including:

  • as a biochemical factory, it processes nutrients absorbed from the gut, and makes them available for use by other parts of the body
  • bile production and excretion into the intestine, which is important for absorption of fats and certain vitamins
  • production of blood factors including many of those necessary for blood clotting and for normal body fluid balance
  • removal of toxins from the blood including those produced by bacteria in the gut and for the breakdown of alcohol and many drugs
  • removal of germs in the blood absorbed from the gut
  • processing of some hormones and vitamins

Liver disease

Liver disease is a general term for any condition affecting your liver. One of the major complications of liver disease is cirrhosis, a term used for liver scarring and poor liver function seen in the terminal stages of chronic liver disease.

Symptoms of liver disease can include:

  • skin and eyes appear yellowish (jaundice)
  • abdominal pain and swelling
  • swelling in the legs and ankles
  • itchy skin
  • dark urine colour
  • pale stool colour
  • chronic fatigue
  • nausea and vomiting

Preventing liver disease

Many of the complications of liver disease can be avoided if you:

  • maintain good nutrition through a high protein-high energy diet
  • take your medications as prescribed
  • get imaging scans every six months to conduct regular surveillance for liver cancer
  • undergo regular gastroscopy procedures to detect development of large veins (varices) in the oesophagus
  • avoid the use of some types of medications. This includes acid-suppressing medications (PPIs or proton-pump inhibitors) and sedatives
  • avoid alcohol consumption
  • stop smoking