Your Liver Has an Important Job
Taking care of it is vital!
By Anthony Martinez, MD
Medical Director of Hepatology at Erie County Medical Center
Your liver serves some very important functions in ensuring your body’s overall health — cleaning toxins from your blood, fighting infection, producing bile to aid digestion, storing vitamins, and regulating hormones and metabolism. When your liver stops functioning properly, seeing a hepatologist, a physician specially trained to treat problems associated with the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas, can be vital.
People suffering from liver disease typically do not experience symptoms initially. Instead, symptoms such as swelling in the legs, abdomen, increased bleeding, and jaundice appear well after the disease progresses. Understanding chronic conditions that can affect your liver is important, as is the difference between Hepatitis A, B, and C, the three types of viral hepatitis.
Fatty Liver Disease.
Your liver plays an important role in regulating cholesterol and metabolism. Fatty liver disease (FLD) occurs when excess fat builds up in the liver, interfering with the body’s metabolism. Chronic conditions associated with this are diabetes, hyperlipidemia, and hypertension. FLD occurs equally in people who are overweight and thin, and in those who use alcohol. Carrying excess weight in the abdomen pushes back into the liver tissue. Over time, that fat within the liver tissue creates inflammation. After 20 to 25 years, that inflammation turns into scar tissue, which increases the risk for a person developing cirrhosis. Weight loss is an important first step in improving liver health. Exercise, diet improvement, and blood sugar control also help reduce fatty infiltration and inflammation.
Hepatitis A is transmitted by ingesting contaminated food particles, making hygiene extremely important when preparing food and visiting the restroom. When traveling internationally, refrain from drinking tap water. While Hepatitis A typically goes away on its own within a few weeks or months, a vaccine and proper hygiene are the best methods of protection.
Hepatitis B is transmitted via blood and is common in certain areas of the world. Many Buffalo immigrants and refugees from these areas live with Hepatitis B. While there is no cure, there are medications to manage its effects.
Hepatitis C (Hep C).
Hep C is largely generational, spreads through blood, and is fairly common in baby boomers. There are approximately 2.5 million people in the U.S. living with Hepatitis C. While it remained incurable for many years, medications have changed to include simple, short, safe oral-based regimens. Thanks to these advancements, the current cure rate of Hep C is at about 98 percent. HIV patients are frequently co-infected with Hep C, or a combination of both Hepatitis B and C. The treatment and cure rate for co-infected patients is the same as for the other forms of hepatitis.
Alcoholic Liver Disease.
Alcoholic liver disease is in a category of its own — heavy alcohol consumption can cause inflammation and cirrhosis. If you have underlying liver disease, regardless of the cause, consuming alcohol is the equivalent of adding gasoline to a fire, behaving like an accelerant, and pushing that pathway forward at a very high rate.
For more information about ECMC’s Hepatology services, visit https://www.ecmc.edu/health-services-and-doctors/outpatient-specialty-clinics/hepatology-clinic/. To make an appointment to see Dr. Martinez, call 716-898-6410.