Plus, signs of liver disease.
Please note: I am not trying to provide medical advice in this post. I am only sharing and reflecting what I learned from my family’s recent experience and my research on the subject.
We’ve all been there: “Lol, this quarantine is going to be so bad for my liver!” “Oh, my liver is in trouble because of __!”
When you have seen firsthand how ugly liver disease can be, these jokes stop being funny to you.
My Dad died from end-stage liver disease which progressed quickly and tragically over 7 months.
He told Mom that he wanted her to take a picture of him, so people could see how bad liver disease really is. It’s not a joke. It’s not funny. It’s literally life and death.
I want to be clear about two things:
- I’m not here to tell you to stop drinking entirely. I’m not even doing that myself. But I do want to help people understand the severity of liver disease, because I don’t want anyone to go through what my family just did.
- I do NOT blame Dad for what happened to him. I know that it’s common for people to blame the person they lost for leaving them. That is not the case here.
Liver disease is so much more complicated than you could ever imagine. There are many factors that go into it.
Here is a quick overview of ways to promote liver health. If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend checking out the resources at the end, and click through the sources/suggested readings.
5 ways to promote liver health:
Taking care of your liver, especially when you’re young, is a very important act of self care.
- Moderate your alcohol intake.
Again, I’m not writing this post to tell you to stop drinking altogether. It’s your body, and I can’t tell you what to do. Other people may feel differently now, and my Dad may have been saying he wants people to stop drinking, but my goal is just to make you a little more aware of its impact on your body, especially combined with other factors.
For me, I’m still drinking, but I’m a lot more mindful of the amount and frequency in which I drink. A little moderation goes a long way.
- It’s not just alcohol. Medications can be processed through the liver too.
Pain relief medications are processed through the liver. Some diabetes medications are as well.
Alcohol use when you are young, combined with these kind of medications when you are older, combine for a really bad effect on your body.
Research the medicines you are taking and talk to your doctor if you have any concerns, to see if there are other alternatives.
- Try to maintain a lower sodium diet.
This doesn’t just mean stop adding table salt to your meals. When you buy anything canned, look at the sodium content and try to avoid items with a lot of sodium. The recommended amount is 2,000mg a day.
While low sodium options may not taste as good, there are so many other flavors that you can add to replace salt. Try a little extra pepper or some onion or garlic powder in its place, and you may not miss the salt as much.
Note: One thing that we learned while moving to a low sodium diet is that a lot of the time, items that are low sodium may be high in potassium, which isn’t good for you either. Some amount of potassium in your diet helps with things like muscle cramps, but too much potassium is bad for your heart.
It’s a delicate balance: you don’t want to take both of those things out entirely either, because it can lead to dehydration. But you definitely want to moderate your sodium and potassium intake as much as you can.
- Get some exercise.
An obvious benefit of exercise is to help you manage your weight, which is a key factor in medical conditions like liver disease.
Another benefit is that getting into an exercise routine can make it easier to make healthier choices for your meals. When you are putting in the effort to exercise more, you are more likely to eat better, too.
- Be your own healthcare advocate.
Your doctor only sees what’s on your chart. It’s up to you to make sure they know what’s going on with you, and if you think something is wrong, you need to tell them, and make sure they look into it. Help them see the full picture.
Talk to them about getting a full set or bloodwork done so you can establish a baseline, especially if you are young because it gives you more time to act on it.
Again, this was just a quick overview for promoting liver health. To learn more, please read the quotes and sources/suggested readings below.
Resources on Liver Disease
I don’t like to get caught up in the what-ifs, but I do wish that I knew more about liver disease 8 months ago.
Here are some resources that I would share with December Allet if I could:
Information on Fatty Liver Disease:
“NAFLD is a type of fatty liver disease that is not related to heavy alcohol use. …Alcoholic fatty liver disease is due to heavy alcohol use.” (Source/Suggested Reading: MedLine Plus Article)
“Both NAFLD and alcoholic fatty liver disease are usually silent diseases with few or no symptoms. If you do have symptoms, you may feel tired or have discomfort in the upper right side of your abdomen.” (Source/Suggested Reading: MedLine Plus Article)
“Because NAFLD causes no symptoms in most cases, it frequently comes to medical attention when tests done for other reasons point to a liver problem. This can happen if your liver looks unusual on ultrasound or if you have an abnormal liver enzyme test.” (Source/Suggested Reading: Mayo Clinic Article)
“Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease may cause the liver to swell (steatohepatitis). A swollen liver may cause scarring (cirrhosis) over time and may even lead to liver cancer or liver failure.” (Source/Suggested Reading: American Liver Foundation Article)
“Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease often has no symptoms. When symptoms occur, they may include fatigue, weakness, weight loss, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, spider-like blood vessels, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), itching, fluid build up and swelling of the legs (edema) and abdomen (ascites), and mental confusion.” (Source/Suggested Reading: American Liver Foundation Article)
“In most cases, fatty liver disease doesn’t cause any serious problems or prevent your liver from functioning normally. But for 7% to 30% of people with the condition, fatty liver disease gets worse over time. It progresses through three stages…” (Source/Suggested Reading: Cleveland Clinic Article)
Information on Cirrhosis:
“Cirrhosis is a late stage of scarring (fibrosis) of the liver caused by many forms of liver diseases and conditions, such as hepatitis and chronic alcoholism.” (Source/Suggested Reading: Mayo Clinic Article)
“The liver damage done by cirrhosis generally can’t be undone. But if liver cirrhosis is diagnosed early and the cause is treated, further damage can be limited and, rarely, reversed.” (Source/Suggested Reading: Mayo Clinic Article)
“Cirrhosis often has no signs or symptoms until liver damage is extensive.” (Source/Suggested Reading: Mayo Clinic Article)
“The most common causes of Cirrhosis are Hepatitis C, Alcohol-related Liver Disease, Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, and Hepatitis B.” (Source/Suggested Reading: Liver Foundation Article)
“Cirrhosis is diagnosed by symptoms, blood tests, medical history, and physical examination. A liver biopsy may be needed to check how much of the liver has been damaged. During a biopsy, a small piece of liver tissue is removed and studied in the lab, and additional imaging may be needed.” (Source/Suggested Reading: Liver Foundation Article)
“When cirrhosis cannot be treated, the condition is known as End-Stage Liver Disease, or ESLD. ESLD includes a subgroup of patients with cirrhosis who have signs of decompensation that is generally irreversible with medical management other than transplant.” (Source/Suggested Reading: Liver Foundation Article)
Resources for Liver Transplants
“Liver transplant is a treatment option for people with liver failure whose condition can’t be controlled with other treatments and for some people with liver cancer.” (Source/Suggested Reading: Mayo Clinic Article)
“Chronic liver failure may be caused by a variety of conditions. The most common cause of chronic liver failure is scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). When cirrhosis occurs, scar tissue replaces normal liver tissue and causes the liver to not function properly. Cirrhosis is the most frequently reason for a liver transplant.” (Source/Suggested Reading: Mayo Clinic Article)
“If your provider thinks you may be a good candidate for a liver transplant, he or she will refer you to a transplant center for evaluation. Transplant centers are located in certain hospitals throughout the U.S.
You will have a variety of tests done by the transplant center team. They will decide whether to place your name on a national transplant waiting list.” (Source/Suggested Reading: John Hopkins Medicine Article)
“If you are accepted as a transplant candidate, your name will be placed on a national transplant waiting list. People who most urgently need a new liver are put at the top of the list. Many people have to wait a long time for a new liver.” (Source/Suggested Reading: John Hopkins Medicine Article)
“Your transplant waiting list priority is determined by two scoring systems called Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) for adults and Pediatric End-Stage Liver Disease (PELD) for children younger than age 12.
Your doctor will use a specific formula to determine your MELD scores, which can range from 6 to 40. The scores estimate the risk of death within 90 days without a transplant. A high MELD score indicates the urgent need of a transplant.
As deceased-donor organs become available, they are allocated according to MELD scores and classified by blood type. People with higher MELD scores are generally offered donated livers first. Time spent on the liver transplant waiting list is used to break ties among people with the same MELD scores and blood type.” (Source/Suggested Reading: Mayo Clinic Article)
“Unfortunately, there are many more people waiting for liver transplants than there are available organs; over 15,000 people are wait-listed nationwide. The most important thing you can do is register to be an organ donor.” (Source/Suggested Reading: American Liver Foundation)