By Gwen Spector, Complex GI Nurse Navigator at Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Medical City Healthcare.
Today is World Digestive Health Day – an important time to educate yourself on the organs functioning in your digestive system and learn about risk factors and signs of disease. Below is information on one of the most important pieces of your digestive system, the liver.
The liver is one large, complex, hardworking, multi-tasking super organ.
The liver is the largest organ in your body. Located on the right side of the belly under the ribcage, it performs multiple crucial jobs 24/7 to keep you alive. It does so many jobs that if it had a résumé it would be pages long. The liver not only helps you digest food, but also fights infection, detoxifies your blood, and stops bleeding if you get a minor cut. It’s truly an All Star Team player.
A Snapshot of Your Liver at Work
Your liver is a highly skilled bodyguard, protecting you from harm by getting rid of unwanted guests from your blood stream. Substances such as drugs and alcohol can damage your body while in the blood, and the liver cleans and filters them out. The liver is also the “go to” organ, storing nutrients until your body needs them. It receives leftover glucose (sugar) your body doesn’t need and stores it for future use. It releases this glucose back into the bloodstream when your body needs energy. Acting as a producer as well, the liver makes bile to help you digest the fat in your food and proteins to help your blood clot.
Common Liver Diseases
According to the American Liver Foundation liver disease affects “one out of every 10 Americans,” and is one of the top 10 causes of death in the United States. There are over 100 liver diseases, some more common than others. Many of these diseases are also risk factors for more severe liver problems.
- Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver sometimes caused by a virus such as Hepatitis A, B, and C. In addition, excessive alcohol consumption can cause alcoholic hepatitis.
- Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is the buildup of fat around the liver. Carrying extra pounds on your body, especially for a long time, can lead to this fatty liver disease and a more serious problem called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol or triglycerides are risk factors.
- Primary liver cancer, Hepatocellular Cancer (HCC), begins in the liver cells, whereas liver metastasis is cancer that originates from another place in the body that has spread to the liver.
- Cirrhosis is a late stage of liver disease in which scar tissue replaces normal tissue and can be caused by the conditions listed above. Scar tissue is thicker and less flexible than normal tissue, making it harder for your liver to function.
- Liver Failure is the liver’s inability to function and perform its job. Acute liver failure comes on suddenly. Taking too much acetaminophen can cause this life-threatening condition. Chronic liver failure occurs when the liver is damaged from frequent and long-term abuse due to excess body fat and over consumption of alcohol and dietary sugar.
Try to avoid these complications by knowing how to recognize the signs of liver disease and by keeping your liver healthy. Learn more about liver health in What You Should Know About Liver Cancer.