When conceptions about liver disease stray far from the truth, efforts to prevent, detect and treat are hampered.
Affecting those from all walks of life, an increasing number of people are learning that they have liver disease. An estimated one in ten Americans is affected, yet most of us know very little about this potentially lethal disease. To increase awareness, five of the most frequently encountered misconceptions about liver disease are revealed and corrected.
Liver disease severity ranges dramatically; it can be reversible, mild and manageable, or it can progress in severity into a debilitating and fatal condition. Several forms of liver disease are preventable, and certain types can be effectively treated when detected early enough.
There are more than 100 types of liver disease, originating from:
- an inherited genetic anomaly
- an infectious virus
- an autoimmune problem
- a metabolic disorder
- an unhealthy lifestyle
- complications from other diseases
- exposure to a toxic substance
- reactions to medications
- an unknown source
Most kinds of liver disease progress depending on how much liver damage is incurred. The beginning stage of liver disease involves inflammation without severely damaging the liver’s cells. However, inflammation that continues over time will injure liver cells – sometimes permanently. Greater liver cell damage equals more advanced stages of liver disease. The most severe cases result in liver failure or liver cancer.
5 of the Most Common Liver Disease Myths
- Liver disease is a consequence of alcoholism – Alcohol is only one cause of over 100 forms of liver disease. Alcoholic hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that is frequently discovered in alcoholics, but also occurs in people who are not alcoholics. Because people vary greatly in the way their liver reacts to alcohol, it can be hard to predict who is susceptible to alcoholic hepatitis.
- A liver transplant cures liver disease – For those with the most severe form of liver disease, liver transplants are considered to be a last resort treatment; however, they are not cures. For lucky individuals, a complete liver transplant may be life-saving. Unfortunately, this ideal result it not always achieved. After a transplant, the body may reject the new liver or the new liver can fall victim again to the original source of liver disease.
- Only drug addicts are at risk of Hepatitis C – Hepatitis C is one of the leading causes of liver disease and can be acquired from sharing infected intravenous drug equipment. Although, there are many other sources of infection. This is especially true in adults who may have been exposed to Hepatitis C through routine medical visits and procedures prior to 1992 – when blood and blood products were first screened for Hepatitis C.
- A fatty liver is nothing to worry about – An estimated 25 to 33 percent of Americans are believed to have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a problem that many refer to as a fatty liver. Although the initial stages of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can be reversed with a commitment to diet and exercise, advanced cases of fatty liver can lead to cirrhosis (the permanent hardening and shrinking of the liver), liver cancer and liver failure.
- Only adults get liver disease – Approximately 15,000 children are hospitalized every year with pediatric liver disease or disorders. The major causes of liver disease in children are genetics (Wilson’s disease, alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency, tyrosinemia), viruses (Hepatitis A, B, C) and blockages in the flow of bile from the liver (biliary atresia, alagile syndrome). In addition, obese children are at high risk of developing a fatty liver.
Since the variability and treatability of liver disease is generally dependent on how quickly the problem is identified and addressed, heightened awareness of liver disease is crucial for the public’s health. Upon realizing that the risk of liver disease is not solely dependent on age, alcohol consumption or drug use, that a liver transplant may not cure liver disease and that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease must be taken seriously, efforts to prevent, detect and manage liver disease will be more realistic and improve the outlook of this growing problem.
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