The liver is the second largest organ in the body. It works hard, performing hundreds of complex functions, including:
- fighting infections and illness
- removing toxins (poisons), such as alcohol, from the body
- controlling cholesterol levels
- helping blood to clot (thicken)
- releasing bile, a liquid that breaks down fats and aids digestion
Liver disease doesn't usually cause any obvious signs or symptoms until it's fairly advanced and the liver is damaged.
At this stage, possible symptoms can include loss of appetite, weight loss and jaundice.
Types of liver disease
Listed below are some specific types of liver disease. The links provide more detailed information about each type.
- alcohol-related liver disease – where the liver is damaged after years of alcohol misuse, this can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
- non-alcoholic fatty liver disease – a build-up of fat within liver cells, usually seen in overweight people or those who are obese
- hepatitis – which is inflammation (swelling) of the liver caused by a viral infection or exposure to harmful substances such as alcohol
- haemochromatosis – an inherited disorder where there's a gradual build-up of iron in the body, usually around the liver
- primary biliary cirrhosis – a rare, long-term type of liver disease that damages the bile ducts in the liver
It’s important to note that all types of liver disease can cause cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), not just alcohol-related liver disease.
Causes and prevention
Across the UK, liver disease is on the increase, and has been for decades. Three of the main causes of liver disease are:
- undiagnosed hepatitis infection
- alcohol misuse
These causes of liver disease are all preventable so it's important to make sure: