Liver Disease

Signs & Symptoms

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A affects people of all ages, from young children to elderly adults. The severity of the disease generally intensifies with the age of the patient, with younger children often appearing asymptomatic (no noticeable symptoms).

Common symptoms include:

  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Sudden feaver
  • Abdominal discomfort or cramps
  • Dark coloured urine
  • Jaundice (skin and whites of the eyes appear yellowish)

In mild cases the illness can last 1-2 weeks but in severe cases could last for several months. In extremely rare serious cases it may result in liver failure and death.

The incubation period is the period of time from when the patient was infected to the onset of symptoms, if symptoms are present. This can range from 6 days to 6 months. However, the average incubation period is 20-30 days.

Hepatitis B

Carriers usually contract the disease at birth or at a young age. It will then take many years(usually 50-60) before complications appear.

  • Inflammation of the liver occurs sometimes , but rarely shows symptoms
  • This is a silent killer
  • Usually carriers will not feel pain or discomfort in their day to day life
  • However it is usually too late for treatment to help when symptoms do finally appear - e.g. bloating due to ascites, internal bleeding or jaundice
  • Can  lead to cancer

Hep B carriers have a much greater chance of suffering from liver cancer due to repeated liver inflammation and cirrhosis. When we hear someone complaining about feeling unwell it is not uncommon for that person to pass away in a short period of time upon diagnosis of liver cancer. Therefore Hep B patients should have careful examinations which include periodic blood test, ultrasound of the abdominal or CT scan of the liver.

Hepatitis C

As mentioned, Hep C does not present any warning signs or symptoms until the disease has caused damage to the liver such as cirrhosis. The symptoms of liver failure caused by cirrhosis include:

  • Esophageal varices:
    • varicose veins of the esophagus that tend to cause sever bleeding
    • When this ocuurs there is a 1 in 5 chance that it will lead to death
  • Jaundice - the eyes and skin will turn yellow
  • Ascites - accumulation of large amount of liquid in the abdomen
  • Liver cancer

A not surprising fact is that the most common reason for a liver transplant in Canada and North America is due to Hep C. In B.C. 35% of liver transplants are due to it. Liver transplants generally produce good results with 85% of patients surviving at least one year after the transplant and 75-80% surviving for 5 years. Unfortunately there is a much greater “need” for the organ than there is a  “supply”.

Between 2003 and 2005 B.C. transplantation society carried out 103 liver transplants. During the same period, the number of newly recommended liver transplant patients reached 505 cases. This trend seems to be continuing without any sign of change. Before getting to the late stages of liver disease any symptoms should not be overlooked.

Fatty Liver

How to diagnose fatty liver?

  • There are no signs and symptoms for fatty liver.  The liver can be slightly enlarged  but it would require a very skilled doctor to detect this slight increase in size during a normal checkup.
  • Fatty liver is usually discovered during a check-up for other diseases. The most common is during an ultrasound examination of the gallbladder. No wonder there is a Chinese saying “the liver and gallbladder are a reflection of each other”.

The signs and symptoms of late stage fatty liver disease are very similar to hepatitis. As liver cells are replaced by fat cells the liver gradually loses its ability to function. The fibers in the liver will also increase and contract causing the liver to decrease in size. As a result, fibrosis occurs. This is called cirrhosis.