When the liver fails

Saturday 16 March 2024

Our liver is the largest solid organ in our body and performs over 500 essential functions.

Some of the important Functions include:

i) Produces albumin

Albumin is a protein that keeps fluids in our bloodstream from leaking into surrounding tissue. Albumin also binds and carries hormones, vitamins and enzymes throughout our body.

ii) Produces bile

Bile is a fluid that aids the digestion and absorption of fats in our small intestine.

iii) Regulates blood clotting

Blood-clotting coagulants are created utilising vitamin K, which can only be absorbed with the help of bile.

iv) Filters blood

All the blood leaving our stomach and small intestines have to pass through the liver, which then extricates and removes toxins, by-products and harmful substances such as bacteria.

v) Regulates amino acids

Our liver ensures that amino acid levels in our bloodstream remain optimal. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein.

vi) Regulates glucose

Our liver removes excess glucose from our bloodstream and stores it in the form of glycogen. If our body needs extra energy, it converts the glycogen back into glucose.

vii) Stores essential vitamins and minerals

The liver stores vitamins A, D, E, K and B12, as well as iron and copper.

If your liver fails, then all these functions will diminish progressively. There are 2 types of liver failure:

> Acute liver failure, where the symptoms occur within 6 months.

> Chronic liver failure, which can take years to develop. Some symptoms include fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea, blood in stools and vomiting.

As the liver failure advances, the Symptoms become more severe:

> Jaundice, due to build-up of too much bilirubin in your blood.

> Extreme fatigue.

> Disorientation, confusion and changes in sleep pattern.

> Hepatic flap, where the person has tremors and inability to keep his wrists extended when the arms are outstretched.

> Ascites and edema.

> Weight loss.

> Itchiness.

> Bruising and bleeding, due to lack of blood-clotting factors.

> Red palms and spider naevi on the skin, due to blood vessel malformations.

> Large spleen, due to increased pressure in the portal vein because there is increased resistance to blood flow in a damaged liver.

Why does the liver fail?

3 causes of acute liver failure are:

> Hepatitis B.

> Drugs and toxins, including overdose of paracetamol, antibiotics and anti-depressants.

> Auto-immune hepatits.

3 causes of chronic liver failure are:

> Hepatitis B and C, which can lead to liver cirrhosis.

> Long-term alcohol consumption, which can lead to alcoholic liver cirrhosis.

> Haemochromatosis, a genetic condition that causes your body to absorb and store too much iron.

(Source: When the liver fails, StarHealth, 15 May 2022)

If you get liver failure, what can you do?

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