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Published on August 05, 2010

Liver Conditions Can Happen Unexpectedly

SIOUX FALLS (Aug. 1, 2010) - You probably never even think about it, but the liver in your body quietly carries on some 5,000 vital functions every minute that allow you to live a healthy life.

"Your liver is the largest and most complex organ in the body," said Dr. Hesham Elgouhari, hepatologist and medical director of the Avera Center for Liver Disease. "There's no replacement for the function of this organ."

Among other things, the liver removes waste from the blood, handles nutrients, aids in digestion, processes medications and builds the body's immune system.

Liver disease can result from many things, including hepatitis B and C, excessive alcohol intake, autoimmune disease, genetic conditions, or medication side effects, Dr. Elgouhari said. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is the most common cause of chronic liver disease and affects nearly 25 percent of the U.S. population. Risk factors include obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Early stage chronic liver disease is often "silent," producing no symptoms or vague symptoms. Later stage disease can be marked by symptoms such as weakness, abdominal pain, itchiness or jaundice. If detected early, liver disease can often be reversed with medication and lifestyle changes. Other times, liver disease must be corrected surgically.

Liver disease can strike unexpectedly, as evidenced by 28-year-old Jackie Raveling of Rock Valley, Iowa. A routine blood screening showed that Jackie had elevated alkaline phosphatase (ALP) levels, which can indicate liver or bone disease.

"I didn't have any signs or symptoms, so I put it off. Finally, I talked to my doctor about it. He did an ultrasound and wanted me to see a liver specialist right away," Jackie said.

A CT scan showed a mass called a hepatocellular adenoma. Although benign, this type of mass can grow and rupture, causing severe bleeding. In rare instances it can turn into cancer.

Jackie had surgery to remove the mass that measured about the size of a baseball, and has had no difficulty since. "It took everyone by surprise," said Jackie, who was otherwise very healthy.

When Amy Troske of Northville slipped and fell on the ice walking home one winter evening, she never dreamed she had injured her liver to the extent that she would spend 63 days in the hospital, including a few scary days in intensive care not knowing if she would pull through.

Amy thought she was fine until she started feeling severe pain in her shoulder and neck. Tests showed that Amy had developed a hematoma, an accumulation of blood on her liver, causing reflective nerve pain. "It was filling up my whole abdominal cavity," Amy said.

After complications including blood clots, Amy eventually had a procedure to drain 2 liters of blood and fluid from the hematoma. A year later, Amy is back to good health, caring for her own three children and providing home daycare. 

"When I think of all that could have happened, I'm just thankful I could get the care I needed in Sioux Falls," Amy said. "It all worked out, and that's all that matters."

For more information visit the Avera Center for Liver Disease web page at www.AveraLiverDisease.org