About Hepatology (Liver)
Hepatology is a branch of medicine concerned with the study, prevention, diagnosis and management of diseases that affect the liver, gallbladder, biliary tree and pancreas. The term hepatology is derived from the Greek words “hepatikos” and “logia,” which mean liver and study, respectively.
Some of the most common ailments that are assessed, diagnosed and managed by a hepatologist include:
- Diseases of the liver-related to excess alcohol consumption, including fatty liver disease, liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.
- Viral hepatitis infections (hepatitis A, B, C and E). Over two billion individuals have been infected with hepatitis B at some point and around 350 million people are persistent carriers. With widespread vaccination and blood screening, the incidence of hepatitis B has significantly decreased. However, hepatitis B and hepatitis C are accountable for up to 80% of liver cancer cases.
- Drug overdose, particularly paracetamol overdose
- Gastrointestinal bleeding caused by portal hypertension linked to liver injury
- Enzyme defects causing a liver enlargement in children, also known of as liver storage diseases
- Some tropical infections such as hydatid cyst, kala-azar or schistosomiasis
- Liver transplantation
- Liver cancer
- Genetic and metabolic liver disease
- Pancreatitis, usually when caused by alcohol consumption or gallstones
- Drug metabolism
- Damage to the pancreas or biliary tract caused by infection, cancer, alcohol, bleeding or obstruction.
Hepatology used to be considered a subspecialty of gastroenterology, but nowadays doctors can specialize in hepatology, which is quickly emerging as a freestanding speciality. As a critical organ that can be affected by a large number of factors, the liver is usually the focal point in hepatology.
Scope Of A Hepatologist
A hepatologist is a specialist in the branch of medicine called Hepatology, which includes the study of body parts such as the liver, the biliary tree, the gallbladder and the pancreas. A hepatologist manages disorders in these areas.
A hepatologist generally only assesses patients after they are referred by their doctor. A hepatologist may also be involved in the follow-up of patients who have received a liver transplant.
Hepatologists deal most frequently with viral hepatitis and diseases related to alcohol. Hepatitis impacts millions of people worldwide and has been associated with a number of poor outcomes such as liver cancer and liver transplantation. Particularly, hepatitis B and hepatitis C frequently cause liver cancers. Alcohol consumption has been associated with cirrhosis and other complications.
- What is alcoholic liver disease (ALD)?
ALD is the development of liver damage as a result of heavy alcohol consumption. This damage may occur in three patterns: fatty liver (an abnormal accumulation of fat in the structural cells of the liver), alcoholic hepatitis (inflammation of the liver caused by the toxic effect of alcohol) and cirrhosis (progressive destruction and regeneration of liver cells with fibrotic connective tissue).
- What are the symptoms of ALD?
Some patients with ALD may be asymptomatic while others may present with a wide range of symptoms such as nausea, dry retching, diarrhea, anorexia, right upper quadrant pain, prominent vascular spiders, liver enlargement and tenderness.
- What can I eat if I have liver disease?
Eating well is a great lifestyle change that can help your liver function at its fullest potential. Making changes in your diet including limiting fats & sugars while increasing consumption of fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains.
- Can liver disease affect people at any age?
Yes, liver disease can be found in children, adults, and senior citizens.
- Why is fatty liver disease increasing?
Having type-2 diabetes or high cholesterol increases the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. But by far the biggest problem is obesity. More than one-third of Americans and approximately 12.5 million (17%) of children and adolescents are obese. As it becomes an emerging epidemic, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is the third most common reason for liver transplants.
- What is alcoholic hepatitis and how is it diagnosed?
Alcoholic hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver characterized by necrosis and fibrotic scarring. The definitive diagnosis of alcoholic hepatitis is made by liver biopsy. Other considerations in diagnosis include a history of chronic or current heavy alcohol consumption, an enlarged liver and blood enzyme analysis. Patients with alcoholic hepatitis may present with anorexia, nausea, jaundice and weight loss.