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Liver Center - Liver Disease Facts

The Liver is the largest organ in the body. Consisting of several lobes, the liver is found under the ribs on the right side of the body and is important in removing harmful material from the blood, making enzymes and bile that help digest food, and converting food into substances needed for life and growth. The liver is the only organ in the body that is able to regenerate or completely repair damage with new cells. However, long-term complications can occur when regeneration is either incomplete or prevented by progressive development of scar tissue. Once scar tissue has developed it is very difficult to reverse the process. Severe scarring is known as cirrhosis and indicates late-stage liver disease that is often followed by complications.

Over 35 million Americans, or 1 in every 10, are or have been affected with liver and biliary disease. This includes nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH or Fatty Liver), hepatitis C, hepatitis B, alcoholic liver disease, and other liver diseases. Up to 50 percent have no symptoms. The most common symptoms are vague including fatigue or excessive tiredness, lethargy, and occasionally itching. More prominent signs of liver disease include jaundice or yellowing of the eyes and skin, dark urine, very pale or light colored stool or bowel movements, bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract, mental confusion, and retention of fluids in the abdomen. Often the first sign of liver disease may be abnormal blood tests.

Liver Disease Facts:

  • The most prevalent liver condition is NASH (fatty liver disease), which affects about one third of the population, over 15 million people, both adults and children, in the United States.
  • Liver disease – including hepatitis, cirrhosis and liver cancer – is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States.
  • There are more than 20 liver diseases which are currently diagnosed and for which there are treatments but many treatments can only slow disease progression.
  • One in 60 people have hepatitis C and nearly two-thirds of those people don’t know they have it. It is called the “silent epidemic” because it can infect people for decades without obvious symptoms.
  • Hepatitis C is five times as wide spread as HIV.
  • Hepatitis C can be diagnosed through a simple blood test and is now fully curable in over 90 percent of patients.
Liver diseases include:

  • viral hepatitis – A, B, C
  • fatty liver disease – NAFLD, NASH
  • hemochromatosis
  • autoimmune hepatitis
  • primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC)
  • primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC)
  • metabolic liver diseases
  • liver cancer
  • cirrhosis
  • acute liver failure
  • alcoholic liver disease
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by a virus, drugs or other factors. There are six known kinds of viral hepatitis: A, B, C, D, E and G. Hepatitis B and C have the greatest potential for long-term liver damage. There is a vaccine for the prevention of hepatitis A and B, but not for hepatitis C.

There are 1.2 million people in the United States with hepatitis B. The virus is responsible for 5,000 deaths annually. One out of every 250 people is a carrier of hepatitis B and can pass it on to others – through contact with blood or body fluids – often unknowingly.

Hepatitis B is 100 times more infectious than HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. There are 500 million hepatitis viral particles in one teaspoon of blood compared to 5-10 HIV particles.

More than four million people (1.9 percent of the population) have been exposed to hepatitis C and most do not know that they are infected. The virus is spread through infected human blood and blood products.

Every year, 8-10,000 people die from complications of chronic liver disease related to hepatitis C.

The estimated medical and work loss cost per year from viral hepatitis is greater than $500 million.

Hemochromatosis is a genetic disease of iron metabolism that results in excess iron deposits throughout the body. The disease may lead to the development of cirrhosis, diabetes, skin pigment changes, cardiac problems, arthritis and testicular atrophy. Life expectancy is normal if diagnosed before these secondary disorders develop.

Approximately 25,000 Americans die each year from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. More than 300,000 people are hospitalized each year due to cirrhosis.

Liver Transplantation:

Approximately 6,000 liver transplants were performed in 2015. Because of the shortage of organs, it is estimated that nearly 1,200 prospective recipients died in 2015 while waiting for a liver for transplantation. There are currently more than 15,000 people waiting for a liver transplant in the United States.