Liver is considered to be the second largest organ in your body. It is located on the right side of the abdomen and is well protected by the rib cage. The liver has two lobes namely right lobe and left lobe. Its main task is to filter the impurities present in the blood before sending it other parts of the body. Many important functions of the body depend on the health of the liver which makes it a vital organ in our body.
Functions of liver :
Digestion is the primary function of our body in which the liver plays vital role with the secretion of bile, a chemical compound. Bile gets stored in the gallbladder which is then released to break down the fatty molecules of the food. It makes the entire process of digestion easier by emulsification of fats. Large cluster of fat particles are broken down into smaller pieces so that the body can easily absorb it.
Liver is responsible for metabolizing many compounds into useful materials. Hepatocytes are special cells present in the liver which does the task of metabolism. The food we eat contains carbohydrates, proteins, lipids and other important nutrients. Liver metabolizes these compounds and convert them into biologically accepted substance to facilitate the process of absorption.
It is the digestive system that breaks down carbohydrates into simpler molecules of glucose. Blood that leaves the liver is always rich in glucose absorbed from food. Now hepatocytes of the liver absorb these glucose molecules to store them in the form of glycogen which are then released into the body when needed. Thus liver plays an active role in maintaining the blood glucose level. Hepatocytes convert not only carbohydrates but also fatty acids and glycerol. They secrete several important lipids that are very much needed for the body. After absorbing certain amounts of fat particles the rest of the cholesterol are excreted in the form of bile.
In the process of digestion and absorption that takes place in the hepatic portal vein, the hepatocytes present in the liver removes any toxic substances in the blood before sending it to other parts. Thus liver protects the body from many harmful and potentially toxic substances. Alcohol and other drugs are converted into inactive metabolites before they are delivered into the digestive system.
Liver acts as the store-house of many nutrients, minerals and vitamins. The hepatocytes would store several kinds of fatty acids obtained from triglycerides. Homeostasis of glucose in blood level is maintained by the liver. Whenever the body needs vitamins or minerals it is the liver that supplies them from its storeroom to the tissues of the body.
Many types of protein compounds like fibrinogen, prothrombin and albumins are produced in the liver. These compounds are vital in the process of clotting of blood and for maintaining the isotonic balance of the balance.
Liver Inflammation Symptoms :
Hepatitis is the medical term to indicate inflamed liver. Slightly enlarged liver will not cause any obvious symptoms. But if the liver gets severely inflamed/enlarged it would cause severe discomfort in the abdomen and feeling of fullness. There are many factors that cause liver inflammation and the symptoms vary accordingly. Some of the common symptoms of inflamed liver are diarrhea, swelling of abdomen, fullness, fatigue, change in color of urine, loss of appetite, nausea and change in skin color (yellow). In serious cases, the person will have intense abdominal pain, confusion, and change in behavior, difficulty in walking and extreme tiredness. Some people will vomit coffee colored substances with blood.
There are many causes for liver inflammation. It can develop swelling due to viral infection, prolonged use of medications, toxins, and due to hepatitis (many types like A, B, C, and E). Enlargement of liver occurs due to autoimmune disorders. It can develop due to genetic problems also in rare cases. Growth of cysts inside the liver can cause liver inflammation.
Any problem with the normal blood circulation can cause damage to the liver. If the normal blood flow is affected by congestive heart failure, blockage in the veins of liver and any other disease in the veins of liver it can cause enlargement of liver. If the bile flow gets affected due to cholestatis or if the cholesterol gets accumulated in the liver it can affect the liver. Unlimited alcohol consumption is the major cause of liver problem. In late stages it would cause liver cirrhosis (scarring of liver).
Who are at risk?
Liver inflammation can develop to people who overly use alcohol, who eat contaminated food often and who are prone to viral infection by sharing infected things with others. You can get liver infection through blood transfusion from the infected person. You are likely to develop inflamed liver or hepatitis infection through sexual intercourse with a person with hepatitis.
Swelling of liver can be detected by your doctor by physical exam. He would order for several tests like blood profile, CT scan or MRI scan, ERCP test for checking bile duct. He may also do a liver biopsy by cutting small tissue from the liver to test in the lab.
If timely treatment is not given to enlarge liver, it can cause liver failure and death. The method of treating inflamed liver depends on the cause factor. If alcohol abuse is the root cause of liver enlargement, then you need to stop taking alcohol. If certain medication is the cause of inflamed liver your doctor will prescribe suitable alternative drugs. Hepatitis treatment varies with the type. Hepatitis A infection has to be dealt with maintaining hydration for the person concerned.
If the gallstones are creating problem with the liver function, surgery will be done for removing gallbladder. Liver cirrhosis in advanced stage cannot be treated. The liver would stop expelling waste products resulting in increase in the levels of blood ammonia. This would eventually cause confused thought, loss of balance and coma. The patient will be put on low sodium diet and given suitable diuretics to reduce the water retention. Paracentesis is done by draining off excess of fluid from the abdominal cavity using a needle. Local anesthesia is given to the patient and fluid is withdrawn. The last option for liver enlargement is liver transplantation and it carries high risk.
Tips for Prevention :
You need to limit the alcohol consumption since alcohol abuse can seriously damage your liver. Avoid getting exposed to fluids (of any kind) of other persons who are suspected to have hepatitis infection. Abstain from kissing and having sex with them since you have more chance of getting the infection through fluid exchange. You can prevent many types of hepatitis by getting vaccinated.