Any condition that causes severe damage to the liver represents a serious threat to life. The liver has a limited ability to regenerate after suffering from an injury, but the livers function will not fully recover unless the normal vascular pattern is returned.


Hepatitis means the liver has become inflammed. It can be caused by viruses known as the hepatitis viruses which are the cause of most liver damage worldwide. Hepatitis can also be caused by toxins like alcohol or infections. There are different forms of Hepatitis: A,B,C,D and E. Symptoms occur when the disease prevents the liver functioning like normal, leading to problems with digestion due to a lack of bile, and with the regulation of blood.

  • Hepatitis A is caused by the viral infections like the Hepatitis A virus, drinking too much alcohol, and drugs and other chemicals. The virus travels in the blood which is how it reaches the liver, however exits the body via the bowels and is caught by oral ingestion. It can be vaccinated against.
  • Hepatitis B is also caused by viral infections, like Hepatitis B. Hepatitis B is a blood borne virus and is spread by blood to blood contact. It is highly infectious and even a tiny amount of blood can pass on the infection if it enters the bloodstream. This infection can be transmitted via needle sharing, sex, or from the mother during labour to the child.
  • Hepatitis C virus infects the cells in your liver, causing inflammation and fibrosis. People suffering with chronic hepatitis C infection, can develop cirrhosis of the liver within 20 to 30 years.
  • Hepatitis D can only occur if the hepatitis B virus is also present. It is caught in the same way as hepatitis B, known as co-infection. It effects approximately 15 million people worldwide, with 5% of hepatitis B sufferers also having the hepatits D form.
  • Hepatitis E is like hepatitis A as it is caught through eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. It is therefore common in poorer countries with poor sanitation. The disease is mild in its effect unless you have a pre-existing liver disease and usually lasts only a couple of weeks.

Portal Hypertension

If the blood flow through the liver becomes impaired or obstructed as a result of liver failure or a blood clot. The within the liver  sinusoids become engorged with blood causing a rise in pressure. This is called portal hypertension. As the pressure increases then small veins and capillaries in the portal system can enlarge and burst causing intestinal bleeding. Under these conditions leaked fluid may lead to ascites.


Haemochomatosis is an inheredited disease caused by excessive absorption of iron from the diet. This causes an increase in total body iron stores. Humans do not actively excrete excess iron, so it accumulates in tissues and organs preventing their normal function. The most commenly affected organs include the liver, adrenal glands, the heart and the pancreas. Haemochomatosis can lead to cirrhosis, adrenal insufficiency, heart failure or diabetes. 

Liver Cancer

Liver cancer is the presence of malignant hepatic tumours, which are growths of liver cells. Liver cancer can be primary or secondary.

Primary cancer originates in the liver itself. The most common malignant, primary liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma.

Secondary cancer is caused by metastases from other tumours in a different area of the body, frequently the GI tract because blood from the GI tract passes through the liver as part of the hepatic portal circulation and tumours metastases are carried in the blood to the liver. However they can originate from any part of the body including from breast tumours, lung tumours, renal or prostate tumours.

Liver dysfunction is the most common symptom; other symptoms of liver cancer include abdominal pain, swelling or jaundice.

Wilson's disease

Is a autosomal recessive inherited genetic disorder caused by copper accumulating in the liver tissue. This results in liver damage aswell as neuropsychiatric symptoms including tremours, increased salivation and ataxia. It is treated by reducing copper absorption or removing the excess copper from the body. In severe cases a liver transplant may be required.


Cirrhosis is a consequence of chronic liver disease caused by healthy liver cells being replaced by fibrous scar tissue. The damage leads to scarring, known as fibrosis. Nodules of tissue can also form when the damaged tissue attempts to regenerate causing a progressive loss of liver function. The nodules replace the smooth liver tissue and makes the liver harder. Together, the scarring and the nodules are called cirrhosis.

Cirrhosis can take many years to develop and can occur without any symptoms until the damage to the liver is severe. The build-up of scar tissue can interfere with the flow of blood to your liver and prevent it from functioning normally.

Common causes of Cirrhosis include chonic and severe alcoholism, hepatitis B and C, inherited liver conditions and fatty liver disease. 

Ascites which is retained fluid in the abdominal cavity is one of the most common complications of cirrhosis. Other complications include hepatic encephalopathy which results in confusion and possible coma. Cirrhosis is untreatable once it occurs, preventing complications and further damage is usually focused on. Cirrhosis can lead to liver failure and in cases of chronic cirrhosis the only treatment is a liver transplant. Every year over 4000 people in the UK die from Cirrhosis.


Many diseases cause liver enlargement which is also known as hepatomegaly. Tumours can also enlarge the liver. The liver is a common site of metastatic carcinoma as cancer spreads from organs drained by the portal system of veins. cancer cells may also pass to the liver from the thorax, especially the right breast due to the communication between the throacic lymph nodes and the lymphatic vessels draining the bare area of the liver.

Liver Transplant

Somebody suffering from severe end stage liver disease, such as severe alcoholic cirrhosis could have a liver transplant. This can resotre liver function however it may require a lifetime of drug immunosuppression so the healthy liver is not rejected by the body. The problem with liver transplants is the fact appropriate donor tissue is in limited supply and the success rate is usually highest in young and otherwise healthy individuals.

Did you know...

The hepatitis C virus disappears in one in four people with no lasting damage.