Liver disease seems dark and mysterious, as does the organ itself. At DDC Orlando, we have discovered that people seldom talk about their liver. They might mention their heart, their brain or even their esophagus, but not the mysterious, misunderstood, neglected liver. Maybe the general public is simply unaware of the importance of this vital organ in overall good health. In fact, the liver is a key player in digestion. Please read on to see how.
Liver Awareness Month is On the Way
October is just around the corner. We will soon be wearing our pink ribbons, celebrating breast cancer survivors and advocating research for the cure for breast cancer. Many of us at DDC Orlando will also be wearing a green ribbon, right next to our pink one. Green is the color of awareness, advocacy, and education concerning liver disease.
You see, October is a nice big month and there is room on its calendar to embrace another big cause of epidemic proportions: Liver Disease Awareness. The doctors and staff of DDC Orlando join the National Liver Foundation in designating October as Liver Awareness Month. So our nominee for a starring role in our blog topics this week and in the month to come will belong to the liver.
In a recent study, the National Liver Foundation revealed that 68% of the people interviewed never think about the health of this organ. In fact, 42% of them questioned the need for one.
Not only do you need one, but the liver is a multi-talented performer of many of the most critical life-sustaining functions. You might not even realize that it plays a leading role in your digestion. It is also the largest solid organ in the human body.
You will find it on the upper right side of your body. It sits under your ribcage. It is sheltered partly by the ribs for protection. Weighing in at about 3 pounds, this champion organ is often described as, “shaped like a football that is flat on one side.”
Getting Acquainted With Your Liver: Details beyond the Football Shape
Part of our awareness crusade is for you to get a sense of the beauty and duty of this amazing organ. Two sources of blood supply the liver with plenty of work. “Oxygenated blood flows into the liver from the hepatic artery.” Likewise, “Nutrient-rich blood flows in from the hepatic portal vein.”
The structure of the liver is designed for function. Did you know, this organ can actually hold one pint of blood or 13% of your blood supply? It is divided into two main lobes. Both lobes are further divided into eight segments, which consist of 1,000 lobules (small lobes). These lobules are connected with small ducts that in turn connect with large ones. They all feed into and build up a common hepatic duct. “The common hepatic duct transports the bile made by the liver cells to the gallbladder and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) via the common bile duct.”
A Multi-tasking Marvel: A Day in the Life of a Liver
Let’s take a quick look at some of the roles this organ accomplishes every day of your life. Then your liver awareness lesson of the day will be to alert you to a viral infection that can literally destroy your liver and your life. Here are the roles the liver plays in your overall health:
1. The Blood Scrubber:
The liver filters your blood by breaking possibly harmful chemicals. It also cleans out and breaks down alcohol and all types of chemicals and drugs. (Prescription, over-the counter and street drugs) Likewise, it filters regular, natural wastes. For example, the liver converts “poisonous ammonia to urea (urea is an end product of protein metabolism and is excreted in the urine.”
There is true beauty and symmetry even in the way the liver regulates the waste products. “When the liver has broken down harmful substances, its by-products are excreted into the bile or blood. Bile by-products enter the intestine and leave the body in the form of feces. Blood by-products are filtered out by the kidneys, and leave the body in the form of urine.”
2. The Storage Unit:
The liver collects a treasure trove of substances needed by your body. It packs away vitamins, sugar, fat and other nutrients. Then it meticulously times their release into the bloodstream when your body requires them.
For example, this essential organ is in charge of converting excess glucose into glycogen for storage. Plus it can balance or make glucose as the body demands it. Additionally, the liver can store the iron it processes from hemoglobin.
3. The Chemical Manufacturing Factory:
The liver produces some very critical chemicals for use in the body. It makes the ones needed to cause your blood clot. You probably already know that the liver manufactures that well-known bitter green fluid known as bile. However, do you know the reason you need bile? Bile helps you digest fat. Many people give the gall bladder the credit for creating bile, but actually, it is the liver that is responsible. It creates the bile and then releases it “into the gallbladder for storage through special ducts in the body.”
Did you also know the liver can build some of the proteins for blood plasma? More than that, it regulates “the blood levels of amino acids, which form the building blocks of proteins.”
When you get ill with a simple every-day garden-variety infection, the liver goes into overdrive to help you fight infection. You are able to recover because your liver can make immune factors while simultaneously removing bacteria from your bloodstream.
Hepatitis C versus Your Liver: A Losing Battle
One of the many diseases that can cause potentially lethal harm to this robust and reparative organ is termed Hepatitis C. The doctors and staff of Digestive Disease Consultants, Orlando wants you to realize this viral infection called HCV has spread at an alarming rate and continues to cause nation-wide liver transplants and deaths.
The Hepatitis C virus brings inflammation, or swelling, to the liver. Since the organ is so strong, and a specialist in the fine art of filtering, it can repel many attacks from the Hepatitis C virus (HCV.) Sometimes the liver will defend itself–and the patient–from the from the Hep C infection over a time span of 10 or even 30 years.
And each time the HCV attacks, the poor, inflamed liver has a more difficult time performing its roles while simultaneously fighting the virus. Meanwhile, without a blood test, the patient might be unaware of this chronic, infected, inflamed condition. He or she might blame the flu, or simple fatigue.
The Hepatitis C Liver Destroying Endgame
Eventually the liver responds to its bouts with HCV like an old champion fighter. Covered with scar tissue inside and out, the mighty champion becomes weary and ineffective in performance. Sooner or later, the scarring becomes fibrous. Ultimately the fibrous tissue takes over and it changes the texture of the liver. We call it cirrhosis.
Once it has progressed to this point, the liver ceases to function well. The patient becomes very sick with endstage liver disease, cirrhosis or cancer. Often the only way the patient can survive is with a liver transplant. And, DDC Orlando professionals know you realize that there are many more patients than there are available livers.
Many people with Hepatitis C have no symptoms. However, sometimes you might notice jaundice, fatigue and eventually stomach pain. The only way to know for sure that you have Hepatitis C is through a definitive, diagnostic blood test.
Risky Busines and The Heart of the DDC Orlando Liver Disease Awareness Campaign:
Hepatitis C isn’t spread through food, water, or by casual contact. HCV is spread through blood. DDC Orlando professionals want you to know that you are in a high risk group if you answer yes to any of the following questions:
- Were you born between 1945 and 1965? (Yes, Baby Boomers, that is you.)
- Did you obtain a blood transfusion or an organ transplant before July 1992?
- Did your doctor give you a blood product for clotting problems before 1987?
- Were you stuck by an infected needle while sharing drugs?
- Have you been on long term kidney dialysis?
- When you were born, did your mother have hepatitis C ?
- Did you have sex with a partner who had an STD or HIV?
- Did you have sex with several partners, or did you have rough sex?
Good News for Patients and Livers: New Medicines for Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C can be detected by a blood test. And today’s doctors can cure it if the liver has not been irreversibly damaged. In previous times, some of the curative therapies were painful and had many major side effects. Drug therapy might continue an entire year, and yet the cure rate might work 50% of the time. Even after enduring a year of therapy, the virus did not always leave the patient.
Now, just within the last months, we have new medicines. For example, Mavyret, a blend of two special drugs, was approved by the FDA August 3 of this year. It is simply a prescription of pills prescribed three times a day for 8-24 days. Older regimes could require a year.
We do not believe in cookie-cutter medicine. It is not a one-size-fits-all situation. So, we cannot predict which therapy will work for you. Every individual case is different. However, be aware that a number of new liver disease therapies are working for patients more easily, faster and without the rough side effects of yesterday’s therapies.
Get Tested for Hepatitis C
However, if you do not get tested for Hepatitis C, you can not get treated for it or for the deadly liver disease it ignites. In October we will wear our green ribbons with our pink ones. And we will hope that we can spread the word about Hepatitis C, its relationship to deadly liver disease and the new treatments available.
At DDC Orlando, if you are in a high-risk group, we highly encourage you to get tested for Hepatitis C and diagnosed. Then let’s work together to restore your liver and your life.