Damage to the liver is progressive in nature and simply does not happen overnight. While there is wide range of causes of liver failure and is diagnosed at different stages, the damage progresses in four stages. Liver damage is the result of alcohol abuse, fatty liver, Hepatitis virus or certain drugs. A healthy liver helps in purifying blood, fights infection; helps digest food and stores proteins and energy. The liver has the ability to regenerate itself by repairing the damaged tissues.
Stage 1: Initial Stage
Irrespective of the cause for liver damage, inflammation is the first sign that the liver is under attack. Inflammation is a sign that the liver is trying to fight off the infection. The liver becomes tender and swollen. If the inflammation is treated, progression to the second stage can be avoided however the inflammation hardly shows any signs on the outside making this stage hard to diagnose.
Stage 2: Fibrosis
In this stage, due to untreated liver the tissues are damaged thus forming the scar tissue. Scar tissue restricts blood flow and hinders proper liver function. The replacement of healthy liver tissues is Fibrosis. Often the rest of the healthy tissues will have to do the work of the tissue replaced by the scar tissues. Liver damage is normally detected in this or the third stage. At this stage, the liver damage can be treated and further damage can be prevented.
Stage 3: Cirrhosis
Cirrhosis is the chronic stage of the liver disease where the damage is irreversible and leads to the liver not able to perform its function. The liver cannot heal itself anymore. Due to this, other health complications also occur and treatment for these complications as well as the liver damage is required. One of the health complications is Liver cancer. Most people are diagnosed with liver problem at this stage. Some of the visible signs are bleeding, bruising, jaundice, and water retention in legs or abdomen, itching of skin, development of insulin resistance and type – 2 diabetes and mental confusion.
Stage 4: Liver Failure
Liver failure is a life threatening condition where the liver is either losing all its functions or has already lost them. The initial symptoms are fatigue, diarrhea, loss of appetite and nausea. As these symptoms are signs of many other diseases, it is difficult to pin down as liver failure. With the progression of liver failure, the patient becomes more sleepy, disoriented and confused. The patient requires immediate medical attention as there is risk of coma and death. The doctor will try to save the healthy part of the liver and if that is not possible, the patient is left with no option other than liver transplant. In rare cases, liver failure can occur with 48 hours and is called chronic liver failure. It is usually due to medicine overdose or poisoning.
Cirrhosis, Liver cancer and Liver failure are life threatening conditions leaving the patient with few treatment options. Diagnosing liver damage at the earlier stages helps in treating and reviving the liver. Talk to your doctor if you think you are at risk or have been exposed to hepatitis prone regions which may require vaccinations.
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