UAB Medicine

Liver Disorders Overview

The liver is the only abdominal organ that can regenerate itself, which means it can grow back. Even with this remarkable ability, the liver can be damaged beyond repair. The two most common enemies of the liver are viral hepatitis and alcoholism. Both of these conditions can scar the liver to the point there is more dead scar tissue than working liver tissue.

Viral hepatitis describes an inflammation of the liver, caused by a viral infection, which damages it and may eventually cause scarring/cirrhosis.. There are two categories of hepatitis: acute and chronic. UAB Hepatologists (hepa means liver in Greek) treat viral hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. Of these Hepatitis C is the most common in the United States and the most common indication for liver transplantation.
Medications can help prevent further damage to the liver and cure viral hepatitis. Too much alcohol can cause three conditions. One is called fatty liver, where fat settles into the liver and it becomes enlarged and painful. In the second type, alcoholic hepatitis destroys liver tissue with an acute and chronic inflammatory process. The final phase of alcohol-induced liver injury is scarring or cirrhosis. To prevent complications from liver disease, alcohol use must be ceased before an irreversible stage of scarring is reached.

Other causes of cirrhosis include:

  •  Viral hepatitis B
  •  Autoimmune hepatitis
  •  Hemochromatosis (iron overload)
  •  Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency
  •  Wilson’s Disease
  •  Primary Biliary Cirrhosis
  •  Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis
  • other rare liver disorders

When enough scar tissue develops, it can develop into cirrhotic nodules. Cirrhosis can be diagnosed with abdominal imaging, such as an ultrasound, MRI, CT scan, or a liver biopsy.

Signs of cirrhosis may include:

  •  fluid build-up in the abdominal cavity.
  •  breast enlargement in men
  •  gastrointestinal bleeding
  •  jaundice - yellowing of the skin and eyes
  •  low white blood cell or platelet count
  •  muscle loss
  •  poor appetite
  •  portal hypertension
  •  redness of palms
  •  salivary gland enlargement in cheeks
  •  shrinking of testes
  •  confusion and memory loss
  • spider-like veins in the skin
  •  weakness
  •  weight loss

The liver can also grow non-cancerous tumors and cancerous tumors. Benign tumors such as hemangiomas are not unusual in the liver and rarely cause any symptoms. Cancerous tumors are cause for serious concern. The liver may generate these tumors or, more often, cancer spreads to the liver from other sources in the body.

Liver transplants

Liver transplants can give new life to a patient. Preferred patients for liver transplantation are people who cannot live long without a new liver.

The UAB Liver Transplant Program is one of the best and most successful in the country with a one-year survival rate of more than 92 percent.

Diseases and Conditions Treated by UAB Gastroenterology and Hepatology:

  • Alcoholic liver disease
  • Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency
  • Amyloidosis
  • Ascites
  • Autoimmune liver disease
  • Caroli’s disease
  • Cholestatic liver diseases
  • Cirrhosis
  • Cystic liver diseases
  • Drug-induced liver diseases
  • Esophageal varices
  • Fatty liver disease (NAFLD/NASH)
  • FNH
  • Fulminant hepatic failure
  • Granulomatous liver disease
  • Hemochromatosis
  • Hepatic encephalopathy
  • Hepatic transplantation evaluation
  • Hepatic tumors-benign and malignant
  • Porphyria
  • Portal hypertension problems
  • Primary Biliary Cirrhosis
  • Primary and secondary sclerosing cholangitis
  • Sarcoidosis liver involvement
  • Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis
  • TIPS issues
  • Viral hepatitis A,B,C,D, and E
  • Wilson’s disease