Show Your Liver Some Love – October is National Liver Awareness Month
Do you know how important your liver is? Most people tend to neglect this very important organ because most liver diseases don’t manifest symptoms until they are at an advanced stage.
Altus Emergency Centers is committed to providing support and education to the communities it serves, which is why we have put together some important information about the liver awareness, its health and disease prevention.
What Does the Liver Do?
The first step towards better liver awareness is understanding its vital role. The liver is both the largest solid organ and the largest gland in the human body, and it is credited with performing some 500 essential functions, some of the most important are:
Bile Production: Bile is a substance produced by the liver which helps the small intestine break down and absorbs fats, cholesterol and some vitamins including vitamin K which is necessary to produce certain types of coagulants. Bile is vital for metabolizing proteins, as it helps break them down so they become digestible.
Metabolizes Carbohydrates: Once carbs have been broken down into glucose in the gastrointestinal tract, it enters the bloodstream and travels to the liver. The liver is then responsible for regulating and maintaining healthy levels of sugar in the bloodstream. Excess glucose is stored as glycogen which will be released whenever a quick burst of energy is needed like between meals or during exercise.
Vitamin and Mineral Storage: The liver is responsible for storing significant amounts of vitamin A, D, E, K and B12 and releasing them when required. It also stores copper as well as iron from hemoglobin which is vital for making new blood cells.
Filters the Blood: The liver receives 30% of the blood circulating in the body every minute and filters it to remove toxins and other compounds from the blood; some might be normal metabolism by-products like dead cells or certain hormones, others may be harmful toxins caused by the ingestion of alcohol, prescription medications, and other drugs. The liver sends the unwanted substances to the intestine or kidneys for disposal.
Which are the Most Common Liver Diseases?
Let’s spread greater liver awareness by understanding the most common diseases that adversely affect it’s health. The liver is a complex organ, one which works tirelessly, so it comes as no surprise that there are multiple illnesses that can curtail its function, most as stated above are preventable and many respond well to treatment if diagnosed early. For this reason, Altus Emergency Centers advocates for regular liver screenings.
Cirrhosis: The condition can be caused by numerous factors including alcohol, harmful toxins, and hepatitis. The disease consists of fibrous tissue that over time grows and replaced liver cells, eventually leading to liver failure as the functionality of the liver cells decreases.
Hepatitis: This illness is most commonly caused by a virus, but it can also be caused by toxins or an autoimmune response, and it is characterized by inflammation of the liver. There are several types, hepatitis A and B usually go away on their own or with oral treatments, and most patients make a full recovery within 6 months. Hepatitis C, however, can linger in the body for years and not show any signs or symptoms, luckily this type of hepatitis can only be transferred by coming in contact with the blood of an infected person or through sexual contact.
Alcoholic Liver Disease: The most common cause of liver disease in the Western World, like its name suggests, excess alcohol consumption over long periods of time can cause liver damage, scarring, and cirrhosis.
Fatty Liver: Associated with obesity or alcohol abuse, this disease is characterized by accumulated vacuoles of triglyceride fat in liver cells. The condition is reversible and does not seem to cause long-term damage.
Liver Cancer: This is the 6th most common form of cancer, its leading causes are alcohol abuse and hepatitis.
Know Where to Go in Case of an Emergency.
How Can You Keep Your Liver Healthy?
Show your liver some love by following these recommendations:
Adopt a Healthy Diet and Exercise Regularly: Reduce the amount of fat and sugar you consume to give your liver a break. Exercise helps your body burn fat, which improves metabolism.
Cutback on the Alcohol: Avoid consuming more than two alcoholic beverages at a time, the process to break down alcohol produces chemicals such as acetaldehyde and free radicals that are harmful to the liver.
Be Mindful of Prescription Drugs: Some cholesterol-lowering drugs can on occasion have side effects that affect the liver. Over the counter painkillers like acetaminophen have been proven to harm the liver if taken in excess. This painkiller can be found in many prescription pain medications, as well as over the counter ones like Tylenol, and some cold medications.
Be Cautions When Exposed to Airborne Chemicals: Paint, cleaning solutions, and pesticides can release harmful toxins that can be absorbed by the body and therefore the liver must dispose of and could lead to liver damage. To minimize the inhalation of these chemicals, make sure the room is well ventilated, use masks and gloves.
Get Vaccinated: There is a vaccine for hepatitis A and B, as well as malaria and yellow fever which also affect the liver, if you are traveling somewhere where any of these may be a concern then you must get vaccinated.
Exercise Caution with Sex, and Tattoos: There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, so practice safe sex; if getting a tattoo or piercing, make sure the studio complies with all sanitary regulations.all sanitary regulations.
Liver Awareness: Warning Signs to Go to the ER
Warning Signs in Children:
According to childliverdisease.org, the following are warning signs that may indicate an autoimmune liver disease in its dangerous stages. Please visit your nearest ER:
The most common symptoms are:
- Tiredness and generally feeling unwell
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea (feeling sick) or being sick
- Abdominal pain
- Jaundice with dark urine and pale excrement
- Joint and muscle pain
- Weight loss
- Nose bleeds, bleeding gums and bruising easily
- Amenorrhea (delayed starting of periods or they stop once started)
- Diarrhea (bowel symptoms are more common in autoimmune sclerosing cholangitis)
When to Bring Your Child to the ER:
- Changes in mental status including: confusion, delirium, coma, and extreme sleepiness.
- Vomiting blood.
- Bloody stool. Blood in stool may be black and tarry, dark red, or bright red.
Warning Signs in Adults:
Bleeding: My stools are black and tarry. I’m vomiting blood.
Confusion: My head is cloudy. I’m so confused and sleepy I can’t do anything.
Fever: I have a fever and I can’t stop shaking.
Jaundice: My eyes are suddenly turning yellow.
Source: US Department of Veteran Affairs.