Pancreas & Liver
Acute and Chronic Pancreatitis
Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is a large, flat gland located in the upper abdomen, between the stomach and the upper portion of the small intestine, known as the duodenum. The pancreas produces enzymes that flow through the pancreatic duct and combine with bile to aid in the digestion of food. The pancreas also produces insulin and glucagon to help regulate blood sugar levels. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, the enzymes it produces become active and attack it, damaging the pancreas. Pancreatitis can be either an acute or chronic condition causing mild to severe symptoms. Both forms of pancreatitis may lead to complications. Severe cases of pancreatitis may cause permanent damage to the tissue. Pancreatitis is more likely to occur in men than women.
Autoimmune hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that occurs when the body's immune system attacks the liver. The symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis may include nausea, mild fatigue, joint pain and abdominal pain. Anyone can develop autoimmune hepatitis at any age, but the disease is more common in women.
In order to diagnose autoimmune hepatitis, a blood test will be performed. This can be used to distinguish autoimmune hepatitis from viral hepatitis, which has similar symptoms. A liver biopsy, which involves removing a small amount of liver tissue for analysis, helps determine the severity of damage to the liver. Autoimmune hepatitis is treated with medication that helps prevent the body's immune system from attacking the liver. If autoimmune hepatitis has already progressed to the point at which cirrhosis has developed, a liver transplant may be required.
Cirrhosis is a condition of the liver that causes irreversible scarring and affects blood flow, prohibiting the functions of the liver. The liver plays an important role in many bodily functions, including producing clotting proteins to help blood clot and removing toxic substances from the body. The importance of these processes makes cirrhosis one of the leading causes of death by disease in the United States.
Hepatitis B is an inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus. Left untreated, hepatitis B can become a serious, chronic condition that may permanently damage the liver.
Many people with hepatitis B experience symptoms similar to the flu. Symptoms, which last for several weeks, may appear up to five months after infection.
Hepatitis B is treated with the following:
- Avoiding alcohol
- Increasing fluid intake
- A healthy diet
Chronic hepatitis B is often treated with medication that requires monitoring for side effects. Severe cases of hepatitis B may require a liver transplant to replace a damaged liver.
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease caused by an infection with the Hepatitis C virus. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C and no treatment to cure the condition either, so it is important to take precautions to prevent an infection with this disease. Chronic Hepatitis C is the leading cause of cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver transplants in the United States. About 60 percent of all new cases of Hepatitis C are the result of injected drug use.
Liver Failure Management
The liver is an essential organ that removes impurities from blood, and converts food to energy. If large portions of the liver become damaged and fail to function properly, liver failure may result. Liver failure is characterized by symptoms that include fatigue, jaundice and abdominal swelling, and may be caused by a variety of factors, including long-term alcohol consumption, cirrhosis and hepatitis.
Liver-failure management depends on the underlying cause of the damage. If liver failure is caused by a virus, such as hepatitis, the liver may eventually recover on its own once the virus is treated. Treatment for liver failure caused by long-term damage, such as cirrhosis, includes trying to preserve the part of the liver that is still functioning. If that is not possible, a liver transplant may be necessary.
Liver failure may be prevented by drinking alcohol in moderation and getting a hepatitis vaccine.
Non-alcohol Fatty Liver Disease
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a common liver disease, occurs when fat accumulates in the liver of a person who does not consume alcohol. Although it is normal for the liver to contain some fat, patients with NAFLD have difficulty breaking down excess fat. This causes fat to be stored in the liver, which may lead to liver damage. NAFLD’s symptoms include nausea, weight loss, abdominal pains and jaundice.
Common risk factors for NAFLD include obesity, diabetes, poor diet and genetics. Diagnosed through blood tests, imaging tests and liver ultrasound, treatment for NAFLD depends on its severity, with more serious cases requiring liver transplantation surgery, and less severe cases requiring only medication. By maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly, it may be possible to reduce the risk of developing NAFLD.