Hepatology is the medical specialty that deals with disorders of the liver and surrounding organs. Common disorders include hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), tumors of the liver, and liver failure. If liver failure develops, liver transplantation may need to be required.

The liver is one of the most important organs in the human body, performing over 200 unique functions. These functions include detoxifying harmful substances, producing hormones, aiding in the clotting of blood, and producing bile, which is required for normal digestion.

Many diseases affect the liver. There is a popular misconception that all liver disease is related to alcohol and drug abuse. Genetics play a big role, and many of the illnesses are hereditary and tend to run in families. Excessive amounts of iron and copper in the liver are hereditary, as well as over stimulation of the immune system which can lead to serious damage. Cirrhosis, which is scarring of the liver, is the result of years of inflammation and damage to the liver. Alcohol accounts for only 50% of all of the cases of cirrhosis seen in adults.

Routine blood tests usually screen for liver problems. ANY elevation of these “liver chemistries” warrants further evaluation. Compared to other organs, the liver rarely produces symptoms until the later stages of the disease. For this reason, abnormal lab values need to be taken seriously. Do not wait to seek attention until symptoms develop.

Viral hepatitis, due to hepatitis A, B, and C are common conditions we see. With the large Asian population in Houston and other large metropolitan areas, hepatitis B is a major health concern for this group, occurring up to 150 times more common than the general population. Longstanding hepatitis B may lead to scarring of the liver, liver cancer, and premature death. New, improved therapies are now available.

Hepatitis C is a major public health issue, affecting approximately 1.8% of the adult population. Risk factors include prior blood transfusion, intravenous drug use (even once), tattoos/body piercing, prior organ transplant, and sexual promiscuity. If you have any of these risk factors, you need to be screen, regardless of how you feel or even the presence of normal liver chemistries. As with any chronic condition of the liver, years of inflammation and damage can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure. The therapies for hepatitis C, while intensive, have advanced greatly over the past several years. Response rates have never been higher.