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What are liver diseases?

14 July 2020


Key points:

  • Non-alcoholic liver disease occurs in people between 40 and 59 years old with comorbidities.
  • 15% of people with cirrhosis from excessive alcohol consumption develop liver cancer.
  • About 20% of people who abuse alcohol develop irreversible cirrhosis.

Non-alcoholic liver disease

Generally, when we talk about non-alcoholic or fatty liver disease, we use an umbrella term for many and varied conditions that affect people who drink very little or even no alcohol. Its main characteristic is a large accumulation of fat in the liver cells.

It often occurs in people between 40 to 59 years old who are at high risk for heart disease, due to risk factors such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver is a potentially severe form of the disease and is characterized by liver inflammation which can progress to irreversible damage, similar to that caused by excessive alcohol consumption. When it is severe, it can lead to cirrhosis and even liver failure.

Experts still do not know why some people accumulate fat in the liver or develop inflammation that progresses to cirrhosis and others do not. Non-alcoholic fatty liver is related to the following factors:

  • Overweight or obesity.
  • Insulin resistance when cells fail to process sugar in response to insulin.
  • An elevated level of hyperglycemia indicating prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.
  • High levels of fats in the blood, particularly triglycerides.

Risk factors

A wide variety of diseases and conditions can increase the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease:

  • High cholesterol.
  • High levels of triglycerides in the blood.
  • Metabolic syndrome.
  • Obesity, especially when the fats are concentrated in the abdomen.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome.
  • Sleep apnea.
  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).
  • Underactive pituitary gland (hypopituitarism).


To lower your risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, you can:

  • Choose a healthy diet.Eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.
  • Keep a healthy weight.If you are overweight or obese, reduce the number of calories you consume each day and increase your exercise routine. If you’re already at a healthy weight, work to maintain it through a healthy diet and exercise.
  • Exercise.Try to keep a daily weekly routine. If you haven’t been active in the past few months, ask your doctor for approval first.

Alcoholic liver disease

Liver damage caused by excessive alcohol consumption over a long time. In this disease, the amount of alcohol consumed (how much, how often, and for how long) determines the risk and severity thereof. The best treatment is to stop drinking alcohol but doing so is very difficult and often requires the help of rehabilitation programs.


Alcohol, after being absorbed in the digestive tract, is mainly processed in the liver. When metabolized, substances are produced that can damage liver tissue. The more alcohol consumed, the greater the liver damage. When alcohol damages the liver, it can continue to work for some time and recover from a minor injury.

However, if the person continues to consume alcohol, liver damage will progress, potentially leading to death. When you stop drinking alcohol, some of the damage may be reversed and the person may live longer.

Alcohol abuse can cause three types of liver injury, which often develop in the following order:

  • Fatty liver or hepatic steatosis: This type is the least serious and can sometimes be reversible. It occurs in more than 90% of people who drink too much alcohol.
  • Alcoholic hepatitis: The liver becomes inflamed in about 10% to 35% of affected people.
  • Cirrhosis (irreversible): about 20% of people who abuse alcohol develop it.

Risk factors

Alcoholic liver disease is more likely to develop in people who consume large amounts of alcohol, have been drinking for a long time (usually more than 8 years), are female, have a genetic makeup that makes them susceptible to the disease, or who are obese.


It is estimated that a heavy drinker begins to develop symptoms in the fourth or fifth decade of life and tends to develop serious problems about 10 years after symptoms first appear. About 15% of people with cirrhosis from excessive alcohol consumption develop liver cancer.

As liver disease progresses and alcoholic hepatitis develops, symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening. The affected person may have:

  • Fever
  • Jaundice
  • Sudden liver pain or when palpated
  • Increased volume (hepatomegaly).
  • Fatigue

In the Preventive Medicine area of the ABC Medical Center we can give you specialized care. Contact us!

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