Treating Liver Disease and Pain

A number of different diseases and conditions affecting the liver can cause the symptom of pain in the area of the liver. After a condition is diagnosed, the treatment varies depending on the severity and cause of the liver disease.

Hepatitis is commonly caused by infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, alcoholism and toxic exposure, although there are other potential causes of liver inflammation. Autoimmune hepatitis is treated with medications that reduce inflammation, such as prednisone, a corticosteroid. Alcoholic hepatitis is treated by treating the patient for alcoholism and reversing the effects of malnutrition. If hepatitis is caused by toxic exposure or drug overdose, a treatment may be available to reverse the effects of the drug, depending on which substance was ingested. For example, an overdose of acetaminophen can be treated with an antidote drug called N-acetylcysteine. Hepatitis caused by the hepatitis A virus usually has no treatment other than rest and avoiding all substances that can damage the liver. Acute viral hepatitis is less serious than chronic viral hepatitis. Chronic viral hepatitis caused by the hepatitis B virus is usually treated with interferon, an anti-viral drug. Chronic hepatitis C is more serious and is treated with interferon and ribavirin, another anti-viral medication.

In rare cases of severe hepatitis, acute liver failure may result and the patient may require a liver transplant. Chronic liver failure can cause cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver and eventual liver failure. Liver failure due to chronic liver disease is more common than acute liver failure. There is no specific treatment for cirrhosis of the liver, besides preventing further liver damage and treatment of complications that arise due to the liver damage. It is possible to reduce the damage to the liver so that a liver transplant is not necessary; liver transplants are the last resort treatment when the liver starts to fail. If a liver transplant is given to a patient with hepatitis C, it is likely that the new liver will also be infected by the virus.

If liver pain is caused by problems with the gall bladder or obstructed bile ducts, treatment is usually simple. If gall stones are detected in a patient’s gall bladder but they are not causing pain or obstructions, they are left alone. However, if gall stones are causing pain, the most simple treatment is to surgically remove the gall bladder. The gall bladder serves to store bile, but it is not a necessary organ because bile can still get to the intestines without it to contribute to the process of fat metabolism. The surgery itself is a simple laproscopy procedure done with small incisions, unless there are complications that require traditional open surgery to be performed. A nonsurgical procedure for removing cholesterol-based gall stones with drugs is only used if a patient cannot undergo surgery due to health reasons, because it is a less effective treatment than gall bladder removal and the results are short-lived. If a gall stone is obstructing a bile duct, then the gall stone may be removed using an endoscope to clear the blocked duct; in this case, the gall bladder itself may also be removed so that more gall stones don’t cause blockages in the future.

Liver cancer, whether it is hepatocellular carcinoma or it is a secondary cancer that has spread from another location in the body, may be treated with surgery, chemotherapy or radiation treatments. If the cancer is diagnosed in the early stages, liver surgery or a liver transplant may take care of the problem. If the cancer is advanced or metastasized, surgery is unlikely to help. Chemotherapy, radiation and other anti-cancer drugs, such as Nexavar, can be used to help slow the growth of the cancer. Unfortunately, the prognosis for liver cancer is not good. The disease can be cured in the small percentage of patients who can have a small tumor completely surgically removed, but if it can not be removed, the other treatments will only slow the growth of the cancer. Liver cancer is more likely to develop in individuals with chronic liver disease.

Hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease are genetic diseases involving buildup of iron and copper, respectively, in the tissues. The liver is especially vulnerable to damage in people with these conditions. Hemochromatosis is easier to treat than Wilson’s disease, because the easiest way to get rid of excess iron in the body is to remove some blood regularly, to keep iron levels within the normal range. For those who can’t undergo phlebotomy treatment, a medication can get rid of excess iron, but it has more side effects than phlebotomy. People with Wilson’s disease can get rid of excess copper by taking medications to get rid of it, such as trientine, and medications that prevent copper from being absorbed from the diet, such as zinc acetate.


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