Chronic liver disease

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Chronic liver disease
a,b) MRI with liver-specific contrast in chronic liver disease individual

Chronic liver disease in the clinical context is a disease process of the liver that involves a process of progressive destruction and regeneration of the liver parenchyma leading to fibrosis and cirrhosis.[1] "Chronic liver disease" refers to disease of the liver which lasts over a period of six months. It consists of a wide range of liver pathologies which include inflammation (chronic hepatitis), liver cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma. The entire spectrum need not be experienced.

Signs and symptoms

Signs of chronic liver disease detectable on clinical examination can be divided into those that are associated with the diagnosis of chronic liver disease, associated with decompensation, and associated with the cause.[2]

Chronic liver disease


Signs associated with the cause

Note that other diseases can involve the liver and cause hepatomegaly but would not be considered part of the spectrum of chronic liver disease. Some examples of this would include chronic cancers with liver metastases, infiltrative haematological disorders such as chronic lymphoproliferative conditions, chronic myeloid leukaemias, myelofibrosis and metabolic abnormalities such as Gaucher's disease and glycogen storage diseases.[citation needed]



The list of conditions associated with chronic liver disease is extensive and can be categorised in the following way:[3]

Viral causes

Cytomegalovirus (CMV), Epstein Barr virus (EBV), and yellow fever viruses cause acute hepatitis.

Toxic and drugs

Paracetamol (acetaminophen) causes acute liver damage.


Autoimmune response causes


Risk factors

These differ according to the type of chronic liver disease.[citation needed]

  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic syndrome including raised blood lipids
  • Health care professionals who are exposed to body fluids and infected blood
  • Sharing infected needle and syringes
  • Having unprotected sex and multiple sex partners
  • Working with toxic chemicals without wearing safety clothes
  • Certain prescription medications


Chronic liver disease takes several years to develop and the condition may not be recognised unless there is clinical awareness of subtle signs and investigation of abnormal liver function tests.

Testing for chronic liver disease involves blood tests, imaging including ultrasound, and a biopsy of the liver. The liver biopsy is a simple procedure done with a fine thin needle under local anaesthesia. The tissue sample is sent to a laboratory where it is examined underneath a microscope.[3]


The treatment of chronic liver disease depends on the cause. Specific conditions may be treated with medications including corticosteroids, interferon, antivirals, bile acids or other drugs. Supportive therapy for complications of cirrhosis include diuretics, albumin, vitamin K, blood products, antibiotics and nutritional therapy. Other patients may require surgery or a transplant. Transplant is required when the liver fails and there is no other alternative.[4]

Alternative medicine

Some studies seems to indicate herbal remedies are useful, without being conclusive.[5] Some support may be found in the orthodox medical use of two of these: N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), is the treatment of choice for acetaminophen overdose; both NAC and milk-thistle (Silybum marianum) or its derivative silibinin are used in liver poisoning from certain mushrooms, notably Amanita phalloides, although the use of milk-thistle is controversial.[6][7] Some common herbs are known or suspected to be harmful to the liver, including black cohosh, ma huang, chaparral, comfrey, germander, greater celandine, kava,[8] mistletoe, pennyroyal, skull cap and valerian.[9]

See also

  • MELD-Plus, a rating system used to assess the severity of chronic liver disease


  1. "NHS Choices". Cirrhosis. Archived from the original on 8 October 2015. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  2. Zetterman, Rowen. "Evaluating the Patient With Abnormal Liver Tests". Medscape. Archived from the original on 21 September 2015. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Chronic Liver Disease Archived 2017-08-09 at the Wayback Machine Causes, Symptoms And Treatment - 27/01/2007
  4. Liver Disease Archived 2010-01-31 at the Wayback Machine - 2007-01-27
  5. Liu ZL, Xie LZ, Zhu J, Li GQ, Grant SJ, Liu JP (2013). "Herbal medicines for fatty liver diseases". Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 8 (8): CD009059. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD009059.pub2. PMID 23975682.
  6. Montanini, S; Sinardi, D; Praticò, C; Sinardi, AU; Trimarchi, G (1999). "Use of acetylcysteine as the life-saving antidote in Amanita phalloides (death cap) poisoning". Arzneimittel-Forschung. National Institutes of Health. 49 (12): 1044–7. doi:10.1055/s-0031-1300549. PMID 10635453.
  7. Rainone, Francine (2005). "Milk Thistle". American Family Physician. 72 (7): 1285–8. PMID 16225032. Archived from the original on 2022-06-12. Retrieved 2022-03-13.
  8. Most liver damage from kava has been shown to be due to contamination or an inappropriate source. A 2016 paper concludes: there is no evidence that occasional use of kava beverage is associated with any long-term adverse effects, including effects on the liver. See Kava-Effects on the liver for an extensive review.
  9. Liver problems Archived 2013-06-02 at the Wayback Machine Alternative medicine - 27/01/2007/