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Chronic hepatic impairment

Published on November 26, 2021 at 8:00

The liver is an essential organ in the human body. It is the size of an American football and is located in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen. Your liver has several functions:

  • Providing energy
  • Eliminating medications and toxic substances
  • Controlling certain hormones
  • Creating bile to facilitate digestion
  • Creating proteins to prevent or stop bleeding

Chronic hepatic impairment occurs when the liver struggles to perform its usual functions. Over time, the liver gradually becomes damaged and normal tissue is replaced by a type of scar tissue called fibrosis. The advanced stage of this disease is called cirrhosis.

Some people have no symptoms, but as the condition progresses, the following signs and symptoms may appear:

  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Itching
  • Fluid build-up in the belly and legs
  • Bleeding
  • Respiratory issues
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Confusion

Cirrhosis can lead to several complications, including the following:

  • Ascites: accumulation of liquid in the belly
  • Gastroesophageal varices: swollen and friable blood vessels in the stomach and esophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach)
  • Hepatic encephalopathy: decreased brain function

Causes and triggers

The main causes of chronic hepatic impairment are the following:

  • High alcohol consumption
  • Hepatitis B or C infection
  • Fatty liver, often observed in those who are obese or diabetic

Prevention

Cirrhosis can often be prevented by adopting healthy lifestyle habits:

  • Get help if you have a drinking problem
  • Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B
  • Wear a condom during sexual intercourse
  • Do not share needles or syringes

Treatment

Typically, there is no cure for cirrhosis. However, certain causes and triggers that may aggravate the condition can be treated in order to slow its progression:

  • Avoid alcohol
  • Treat your hepatitis B or C infection, if applicable
  • Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, if you haven’t already done so
  • Get your flu and pneumococcal vaccines
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Stay active
  • Get enough sleep

Certain drugs should be used with caution if you have any hepatic impairment. Talk to a health care professional before taking any prescription or non-prescription medications or natural health products.

When should I see a health care professional?

Consult a health care professional promptly if the following symptoms develop:

  • You vomit blood or a substance that resembles coffee grounds
  • You notice that your stools are black
  • You experience confusion
  • You notice changes in your sleep patterns
  • You have difficulty speaking, walking, or following instructions
  • You develop a fever
  • You have trouble breathing
  • You experience severe and persistent pain in the belly
  • You have severe nausea and vomiting
  • You experience yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Your urine is dark
For more information:
Canadian Liver Foundation
www.liver.ca
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