Liver disease

There are more than 100 different types of liver disease. On this page, there is information about how the liver works and some specific types of liver disease.

The liver

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:

  • obesity 
  • undiagnosed hepatitis infection
  • alcohol misuse 

These causes of liver disease are all preventable so it's important to make sure:

  • you're a healthy weight for your height; you can use the BMI healthy weight calculator 
  • you avoid drinking excessive amounts of alcohol; read more about alcohol units
  • take the appropriate measures to prevent getting hepatitis, such as getting vaccinated if you're at risk

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information, read terms and conditions.

This page was published December 2017

This page is due for review January 2021

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