Liver Lifesavers

How to Pre­serve Your Liv­er Func­tion and Avoid Liv­er Disease

Your liv­er sup­ports many of your essen­tial bod­i­ly func­tions, includ­ing pro­duc­ing both the essen­tial pro­teins that help with blood clot­ting and the diges­tive enzymes that help your body absorb vit­a­mins and min­er­als. Your liv­er also works to remove waste and oth­er tox­ins from your body. Main­tain­ing your liv­er func­tion is impor­tant to your over­all health and there are many ways you can keep your liv­er healthy, includ­ing sim­ple diet and lifestyle modifications.

What caus­es liv­er dis­ease and cirrhosis?

Liv­er dam­age can be caused by a vari­ety of fac­tors. In some cas­es, liv­er dam­age may be the result of an unhealthy lifestyle, includ­ing being over­weight or obese, genet­ic fac­tors, exces­sive alco­hol con­sump­tion or expo­sure to cer­tain virus­es (hepati­tis B or C) and envi­ron­men­tal toxins.

Genet­ic and meta­bol­ic fac­tors that can cause liv­er dam­age include bile acid dis­eases, autoim­mune hepati­tis (a con­di­tion where your immune sys­tem attacks your liv­er) or iron buildup in the liv­er. Accu­mu­la­tion of harm­ful sub­stances, such as alco­hol or fat, can also dam­age your liver.

Regard­less of cause, liv­er dam­age often leads to scar­ring of the liv­er, a process called fibro­sis. Over­time, if not addressed, fibro­sis can turn into what is known as cir­rho­sis, or full scar­ring of the liv­er. Ear­ly detec­tion and inter­ven­tion before cir­rho­sis occurs is crit­i­cal. When lifestyle mod­i­fi­ca­tions and oth­er treat­ments are start­ed ear­ly on, your liv­er has the abil­i­ty to repair and regen­er­ate itself, more so than any oth­er organ in your body. If liv­er dam­age is not addressed and treat­ed ear­ly (before cir­rho­sis devel­ops), the dam­age to your liv­er is no longer reversible.

Com­mon signs you may have liv­er dam­age or dis­ease include:

  • Yel­low­ing of your eyes and skin (jaun­dice)
  • Swelling in your abdomen, legs and/​or ankles
  • Behav­ioral changes includ­ing peri­ods of men­tal con­fu­sion or feel­ing over­ly tired
  • Lack of appetite
  • Changes in the appear­ance of your stool (pale, bloody or tar-colored)
  • Urine appear­ing dark­er than normal
  • Vom­it­ing blood
  • Bruis­ing more easily

What can you do to keep your liv­er healthy?

Main­tain a healthy weight

Being over­weight increas­es your risk of devel­op­ing a con­di­tion called non-alco­holic fat­ty liv­er dis­ease (NAFLD). NAFLD hap­pens when high­er-than-nor­mal lev­els of fat build up in your liv­er and cause liv­er dam­age. You should main­tain a weight that is with­in the nor­mal range on the Body Mass Index (BMI) scale. BMI is a mea­sure of your over­all health that takes into con­sid­er­a­tion your height and weight. Your BMI is con­sid­ered nor­mal if it is between 18.5−24.9. There are sev­er­al BMI cal­cu­la­tors avail­able online to help you deter­mine your cur­rent BMI.

Make exer­cise part of your dai­ly routine

Reg­u­lar exer­cise stim­u­lates your diges­tive sys­tem, sig­nals your body to burn triglyc­erides to use as fuel, and low­ers the amount of fat in your liv­er. You should aim for 30 min­utes of phys­i­cal activ­i­ty each day.

Lim­it your alco­hol intake

Exces­sive alco­hol con­sump­tion is linked to a wide-vari­ety of health prob­lems, includ­ing liv­er dam­age and can­cer. If you drink alco­hol, your dai­ly con­sump­tion should not exceed one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. 

Prac­tice cau­tion around sharp objects

Hepati­tis B and C are virus­es that can cause liv­er dis­ease. You can become infect­ed with either virus if you’re exposed to con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed blood or have unpro­tect­ed sex with peo­ple who are infect­ed. If you come into con­tact with some­one else’s blood for any rea­son — if your skin is punc­tured by an unclean sharp object or nee­dle or if you have unpro­tect­ed sex –fol­low up with your pri­ma­ry care doc­tor right away.

As an added pre­cau­tion, you should avoid shar­ing per­son­al care items like razors or tooth­brush­es that may con­tain small amounts of blood or bod­i­ly fluids.

It is pos­si­ble to trans­mit hepati­tis B from moth­er to child dur­ing child­birth. If you are preg­nant, your obste­tri­cian will check you for hepati­tis B and, if you test pos­i­tive will refer you to a gas­troen­terol­o­gist to help you pre­vent transmission.

If hepati­tis C is sus­pect­ed, you should be test­ed right away. There are med­ica­tions avail­able that are very effec­tive to cure hepati­tis C.*

*Due to the high rate of hepati­tis C among baby boomers (those born between 1945 – 1965), talk with your pri­ma­ry care doc­tor about being test­ed for hepati­tis C if you fall with­in this category.

Use med­ica­tions as directed

It is impor­tant to take med­ica­tions as they are pre­scribed. Tak­ing med­ica­tions incor­rect­ly, which may include overus­ing or mix­ing med­i­cines, or drink­ing alco­hol while on cer­tain med­ica­tions, can lead to liv­er dam­age. Addi­tion­al­ly, you should always inform your doc­tor about all over-the-counter med­ica­tions and sup­ple­ments you take.

Avoid expo­sure to air­borne toxins

Inhal­ing cer­tain tox­ins can cause liv­er dam­age. You can min­i­mize your expo­sure by wear­ing a mask when using aerosol clean­ing sup­plies, insec­ti­cides or oth­er chem­i­cals. Cig­a­rette smoke is also harm­ful to your liv­er and should be avoided.

Your liv­er plays a vital role in your over­all health, so it is impor­tant to be aware of the signs of liv­er dam­age. If you sus­pect you may have liv­er dis­ease, you should talk to your pri­ma­ry care provider to address any con­cerns right away.

Your provider may refer you to a gas­troen­terol­o­gist, a spe­cial­ist in liv­er dis­ease, to deter­mine what oth­er treat­ment options may be appro­pri­ate for you. Tak­ing prompt action to main­tain your liv­er func­tion can help reduce your risk of more seri­ous, irre­versible liv­er dis­ease and cancer.

Learn more about our team of board-cer­ti­fied gas­troen­terol­o­gists, or to make an appoint­ment, 630−717−2600.

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