Liver Disease

Alcohol and weight gain can trigger life-threatening problems

Liver disease can affect people at all stages of life, but the onset of liver disease in your senior years is uncommon. A more significant concern for the elderly is coping with chronic liver diseases that may have developed earlier in their lives.

There are many kinds of liver disease, and many different causes. And because the liver – the largest of our internal organs – performs so many different functions, identifying and managing liver disease is a matter of critical importance.

The most common liver diseases fall into one of these categories:

Hepatitis – This inflammatory condition of the liver is typically caused by viruses or toxins, and it can also be hereditary.

Fatty – Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) describes a variety of ailments that are often associated with obesity.

Cirrhosis – Related to excessive alcohol consumption or other toxin, cirrhosis results in fibrous scar tissue replacing healthy liver cells. Cirrhosis can lead to liver cancer.

The liver performs many important functions in our body: cleansing the blood, regulating digestion, fighting infections, and more. When a liver is so damaged it is unable to perform these functions, there is very little that modern medicine can do other than a liver transplant. Untreated, chronic liver disease can lead to death.

Symptoms of liver disease that everyone should pay attention to include discoloration of skin, blood sugar spikes, digestive problems related to fatty foods, and mood disorders.

Seniors should be concerned primarily about three lifestyle-related situations that can lead to chronic liver disease or acute liver disease requiring immediate medical intervention:

Alcohol consumption: Cirrhosis is usually the result of many years of alcohol overindulgence. If you haven’t cut back on alcohol use in your senior years, do it now.

Weight gain: Managing your weight is the best way to guard against fatty buildup in your liver and high cholesterol levels that can lead to cardiac disease and other problems.

Drug abuse: Prescription medications can take a heavy toll on your liver – you can literally poison yourself through chronic disregard for drug dosage instructions. In fact, the most common cause of acute liver failure is acetaminophen overdose.

For seniors, lifelong liver health means managing your diet properly and being smart about your intake of alcohol, Tylenol, other medications and even common drugstore supplements.

More than 20% of all liver transplants today occur in people over age 60, but the long-term survival rate diminishes with age. Therefore, maintaining healthy liver function is a wise investment!

To learn more about liver disease, visit the American Liver Foundation or the archives of the National Institutes of Health.