Chronic Liver Disease is a term used to describe long-term inflammation and damage to the liver, caused by liver-damaging diseases such as viral hepatitis, alcoholism, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and primary biliary cholangitis. When these conditions last for a period of over six months, they can be described as chronic in nature. About 5.5 million Americans suffer from some form of chronic liver disease.

There are different treatment options available for many conditions that affect the liver. However, if left untreated, chronic symptoms can result in portal hypertension, kidney disease, permanent scarring to the liver (cirrhosis), liver cancer, and eventual liver failure. If you have symptoms of a chronic liver disease, seek medical care immediately. 

Conditions Associated With Chronic Liver Disease

  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Wilson’s disease
  • Chronic Viral Hepatitis
  • Autoimmune Hepatitis
  • Alcoholic Liver Disease
  • Primary biliary cholangitis 
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis
  • Hemachromatosis
  • Liver cancer
  • Epstein Barr Virus
  • Certain medications (rare)
  • Biliary Atresia
  • Cystic fibrosis

Symptoms of Chronic Liver Diseases

While symptoms vary between different conditions, there are some common symptoms associated with long-term damage to the liver:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Nausea
  • Tiredness 
  • Edema
  • Confusion and slurred speech
  • Itchy skin
  • Dark urine
  • Abdominal swelling and pain
  • Pale Stool
  • Bruises easily
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

Risk Factors of Chronic Liver Disease

  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Family history of liver disease/related conditions (such as Wilson’s Disease)
  • Obesity
  • Unprotected sex
  • Sharing needles
  • Type 2 diabetes

Tests to Diagnose Chronic Liver Disease

If you suspect that you may be suffering from a liver disease or chronic liver disease symptoms, several tests may be performed. First, your doctor will examine your medical history, risk factors, and perform a physical exam to check for symptoms such as spider angiomas (blood vessels that collect near the surface of skin), palmar erythema (red coloration in fingertips and palms), bruising of the skin, and jaundice. 

Certain blood tests can be performed to test liver function. Medical imaging tests such as CT scans, MRIs, upper endoscopy, or ultrasonography may be required to check for damage to the liver. A biopsy may be used to examine a tissue sample of the liver. 

Treatment Options for Chronic Liver Diseases

Treating chronic liver disease begins with determining its cause. In many cases of chronic damage to the liver, managing symptoms by attempting to limit the buildup of scar tissue is the only option. Antibiotics, nutritional therapy, and other treatment options will be determined based on your unique situation. If the liver fails, a transplant may be necessary. Surgery may also be required in certain situations.

Preventing Chronic Liver Diseases

  • Maintain a healthy weight 
  • Limit the risk of hepatitis infection by practicing safe sex.
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Be aware of your risk factors, such as certain genetic or autoimmune disorders.