New To Liver Disease

Key points

  • The only clue to liver disease may be an abnormal blood test or scan
  • There are many different liver diseases
  • If you have liver damage, you might not feel sick or have any symptoms. But it’s very important to take this seriously even if you feel well
  • The damage can get worse and eventually cause serious health problems
  • Most liver damage can be treated and even reversed
  • Following a healthy lifestyle will give your liver the best chance possible of repairing itself

Mother and daughter embracingIf you have been told you have a liver condition, it’s normal to feel surprised or worried.

People with early liver disease often don’t have any symptoms, so maybe you had no idea something was wrong.

Don’t lose hope. Even if you have some damage to the liver, it’s an incredible organ. The liver can repair itself and even if there is a lot of damage it can be reversed.

No matter what stage of liver disease you have, there are treatments available. There are also plenty of things you can do to prevent the disease getting worse.

Think of this as a wake-up call. Making some changes to your lifestyle and keeping up with any medications, treatments or screening will keep you as healthy as possible.

First, the facts

If you have been diagnosed with liver disease, you are not alone.


1 in 3 Australians affected
Liver disease now affects 1 in 3 Australians.


3 most common types
The most common are fatty liver disease, hepatitis and liver cancer.


More than 100 liver diseases
There are more than 100 diseases that can affect the liver.


Understanding your liver disease

Information can be overwhelming at first.

Your doctor can explain what’s going on.

Make sure you ask questions if you don’t understand or forget something.

Read more about your condition in our liver disease pages

Look up new words about the liver in our list of liver terms explained

We also have a list of the health professionals you might meet and what to ask them.


Why did I get liver disease?


Liver disease can be caused by viruses, reactions to medicines or chemicals, genetics, autoimmune diseases, being overweight and eating a poor diet, or drinking too much alcohol.


No matter what caused your disease, it is usually possible to prevent further damage from happening. Most liver damage can be treated and even reversed.


Will my liver disease get worse?

You might not feel sick or have any symptoms. But it’s very important to take this seriously. If you take action now, there’s a good chance your liver damage can be reversed.

If you do nothing, your liver disease could get worse.

 

As the liver tries to repair itself, it gets stiff and inflamed. Over time, this leads to scarring. The scarring is called fibrosis and it stops the liver from working properly. Over time, the stiffness and fibrosis spread through the liver.

Eventually it can reach the point where liver failure or liver cancer develops. Many people don’t know they have a liver problem until they develop liver failure or liver cancer.Diagram showing the stages of liver disease - healthy liver, fatty liver, hepatic fibrosis, cirrhosis, liver cancer

It can take a long time for liver disease to reach that stage. Taking action as early as possible gives you the best possible chance of a healthy future.


Understanding your test results

Female doctor and female patientThe first thing your doctor will want to do is find out why you have liver disease and figure out how bad it is.

They will probably examine your belly to see if your liver feels larger than it should.

They will also talk to you in detail about your lifestyle. For example, they may ask about your diet and your weight, how much alcohol you drink, whether you could have been exposed to a hepatitis virus at birth, or through sharing injecting equipment.

They will ask about other people in your family and whether they have ever had liver disease.

Be as open and honest as you can. All this information will help your doctor to build a clearer picture of your liver disease and how to manage it.

 

There are different tests your doctor may order. Unusual test results can be caused by many different conditions. Don’t try to diagnose yourself using the internet. Your doctor is the best person to interpret the results and advise you what to do next.


What happens next?

Female doctor standing outside The health professional who is most likely to manage your liver disease is your GP. They will monitor your disease over time and help you to make important lifestyle changes to manage your condition.

If your liver disease gets worse, or if you have a certain condition, they may refer you to a specialist or another service.

Read more about which health professionals will look after you

 

References

American Liver Foundation. Liver Disease Diets

American Liver Foundation. The Progression of Liver Disease

American Liver Foundation. What advice do you have for those recently diagnosed with NASH?

Australasian Association for Clinical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine. Pathology Tests Explained; Liver function tests

British Liver Trust. Questions to ask your doctor

Canadian Liver Foundation. You may never stop to think about it, but your liver is essential to your life

Cleveland Clinic. Cirrhosis of the liver

Mayo Clinic. Cirrhosis

NHMRC. Australian Dietary Guidelines

US Department of Veterans Affairs. Viral Hepatitis and Liver Disease; Just diagnosed

Victorian Government. Better Health Channel; Cirrhosis of the liver

Victorian Government. Better Health Channel; Liver

Reviewed November 2022

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