The liver is the largest internal organ in the body. Its main functions are to:
- metabolize most of the nutrients that are absorbed by the intestine
- store nutrients
- produce proteins
- detoxify blood by removing medications, alcohol, and potentially harmful chemicals from the bloodstream and treating them chemically so they can be excreted by digestive or urinary systems
Because the liver comes in close contact with many harmful substances, it is protected against disease in two main ways. First, it can regenerate itself by repairing or replacing injured tissue. Second, the liver has many cell units responsible for the same task. Therefore, if one area is injured, other cells will perform the functions of the injured section indefinitely or until the damage has been repaired.
Different types of liver disorders include hepatitis, cirrhosis, liver tumours, and liver abscess (collection of pus), just to name a few. The focus here will be the two most common forms: hepatitis and cirrhosis.
There is more than one type of hepatitis, and although they have similar symptoms, they're contracted in very different ways.
Hepatitis A is the most common and the most infectious, spreading easily from person to person like most other viruses. It affects millions around the world and is responsible for more than 2 million deaths a year.
Hepatitis B is acquired through exposure to infected blood, vaginal fluids, or semen. It's estimated that about 350,000 Canadians have hepatitis B.
Hepatitis C affects about 3.5 million North Americans. About 15% of those with hepatitis C may have been exposed to infected blood products before widespread blood testing began.
Hepatitis D is unique because it can only affect those that already have hepatitis B.
The second type of liver disorder is called cirrhosis. This occurs over time. As the liver is damaged, it will repair itself, but scar tissue forms in the process. Over time this makes it difficult for the liver to function. It's the final stage of many different forms of liver disease.