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Types of liver disease: causes, symptoms and treatment

Liver disease is a general term that describes health conditions that damage the liver. As the body’s largest internal organ, the liver helps with vital functions such as digesting food, processing substances, and filtering waste. When a person develops liver disease, the organ is damaged and can no longer function properly.

This article provides an overview of common types of liver disease and available treatment options.

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Types of liver disease

Liver disease generally refers to conditions that damage your liver. They can develop for many reasons, including:

Depending on the underlying cause, liver disease can usually be managed with lifestyle changes, medications, and sometimes a liver transplant or surgery. If left untreated, liver disease can lead to serious, life-threatening complications.

Experts have identified over 100 different types of liver disease.


Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can be caused by a virus or other factors.

There are two main categories of hepatitis:

  • Viral hepatitis is the most common type of hepatitis. This infection develops after exposure to viruses through contaminated food, water, or bodily fluids. Vaccines are available to help prevent infections caused by hepatitis A and hepatitis B viruses.
  • Non-viral hepatitis is caused by heavy alcohol or drug use, exposure to certain toxins, and certain autoimmune diseases.

Some cases of hepatitis go away on their own if the body can fight off the infection. Other cases of hepatitis are “chronic,” meaning they last for long periods of time and often lead to serious health complications.

fatty liver disease

Fatty liver disease is exactly what it sounds like: damage that occurs when too much fat builds up in the liver.

There are two types of this condition:

  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver diseasewhich is linked to type 2 diabetes, obesity and poor diet.
  • Alcoholic fatty liver diseasewhich is linked to heavy alcohol consumption.

Fatty liver disease can usually be treated with lifestyle changes, such as improving your diet and reducing your alcohol intake.

Autoimmune conditions

Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system – the body’s protection against harmful infections – mistakenly attacks itself. When a person suffers from an autoimmune liver condition, liver cells are specifically attacked and damaged.

Common autoimmune liver conditions include:

Although these autoimmune diseases share similar symptoms, each causes damage in slightly different places, responds differently to treatment, and is linked to different risk factors.

Genetic conditions

A genetic disease is a health problem that is passed down to you from one (or both) of your parents. Certain genetic conditions impact the liver and its ability to function properly, such as:

A family history of genetic liver disease is not always known. Blood tests and genetic testing can help make a diagnosis.

Drug-induced liver disease

Drug-induced liver disease is liver damage caused by overexposure to certain drugs. Since the liver helps the body process substances, taking too much of a medication, drug, or supplement can damage liver cells.

Some common medications that can have this effect on the liver include:

Depending on the drug and the person, liver damage can occur after short-term or long-term use. This damage can usually be reversed and successfully treated after stopping the drug.

It’s best to consult a health care provider before adding a new supplement to your routine. Even though they are available over-the-counter, overuse of supplements can lead to liver damage and other serious health problems or interact with medications you are currently taking.


There are several types of liver cancer that develop when cells begin to grow abnormally, forming cancerous tumors.

Experts are still researching the exact causes of liver cancer, but they have identified several factors that can put a person at increased risk of developing it, including:

  • Viral hepatitis
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to certain toxins or chemicals
  • Family history of liver disease
  • Medical conditions such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, lupus and diabetes

It is also possible for some cancers to spread from other parts of the body to the liver, such as the breast, stomach, pancreas, lungs or kidneys.


Cirrhosis is severe scarring of the liver that occurs after long-term damage. Because this scarring blocks blood flow to the liver, the organ is unable to function properly.

Cirrhosis is most often caused by:

  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Hepatitis B and C
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

Although there is no cure for cirrhosis, certain steps can be taken to stop the progression of the disease and heal some of the scarring.

Hepatic insufficiency

In liver failure, the organ begins to shut down due to severe damage or inflammation. It can progress slowly over time or happen suddenly.

Liver failure can occur as a result of:

  • Hepatitis infection
  • High doses of medication
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Advanced fatty liver disease
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Cancer

Causes of Liver Disease

There are several different reasons behind the development of liver disease. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Virus
  • Genetic
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Poor diet/lifestyle
  • Overuse of certain medications or drugs
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals

Liver Disease Risk Factors

Anyone can develop liver disease, but some people may be at higher risk. For example, researchers have found that the diagnosis of cirrhosis is more common in men, people age 50 and older, people with type 2 diabetes, and people with heavy drinking habits.

Liver Disease Symptoms

Liver disease is not always accompanied by noticeable symptoms. But when it does, some of the common signs include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Swelling of the legs and ankles
  • Itchy skin
  • Dark urine
  • pale stool
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • bruises easily
  • Confusion or agitation

Keep in mind that these symptoms may vary depending on the person and the underlying cause of liver disease.


Because symptoms are not always immediately noticeable, liver disease is often diagnosed at later stages.

Depending on the type of liver disease suspected, a healthcare professional will review your symptoms and perform a physical exam. They may also order diagnostic tests, including:

Early diagnosis isn’t always possible, but it can prevent further damage to your liver. If possible, scheduling annual medical checkups and getting routine blood tests can help you and your healthcare provider track any changes in your liver health.

When to call a health care provider

Liver disease can progress and become fatal if left untreated. Seek immediate medical attention if you notice:

  • Sudden yellowing of the eyes (and potentially the skin)
  • Pain in the upper abdomen
  • extreme tiredness
  • Unusual confusion or agitation
  • Nausea or diarrhea


A specific treatment plan for liver disease will depend on the exact diagnosis and the stage of the disease.

Liver disease is typically treated and managed with the following tactics:

  • Lifestyle changeshow to limit alcohol consumption
  • Dietary changes, such as adopting a diet low in fat, sugar and salt
  • Medicationssuch as antiviral drugs to treat hepatitis or steroids to fight inflammation
  • Operation, such as a liver transplant or surgery to remove liver cancer


To help keep your liver healthy and avoid damage, experts recommend several preventative tips:

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyleincluding drinking alcohol in moderation, focusing on a nutritious diet and incorporating physical exercise.
  • Use drugs at recommended doses as needed.
  • Consider hepatitis vaccinationespecially if you have an increased risk of contracting hepatitis.
  • Adopt safe behaviors while participating in sexual activities, getting body piercings and tattoos, or injecting drugs intravenously.


There are many types of liver disease, which is a broad definition of any health condition that damages the liver. This vital organ is responsible for helping the body perform functions such as digesting food, processing substances, and filtering waste.

Some liver diseases are caused by viruses, such as hepatitis, while others develop as a result of excessive alcohol consumption, exposure to toxins or genetic factors. Treatment options vary depending on the specific condition, but can include lifestyle adjustments, medications, and surgery or liver transplantation in life-threatening cases.

A word from Verywell

Being diagnosed with some form of liver disease can seem scary, but try to remember that you are not alone in this struggle and there are many treatment options available. There are even vaccines available for some, such as hepatitis A and B. If you notice signs of liver disease, contact a healthcare provider for an exam.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the most common form of liver disease?

    Hepatitis is the most common form of liver disease. However, recent data indicates that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and liver disease caused by excessive alcohol consumption are other types of liver disease on the rise.

  • What are the four stages of liver disease?

    Liver disease begins with inflammation, leads to initial scarring (fibrosis), progresses to severe scarring (cirrhosis) and can potentially lead to liver failure. As the final stage of liver disease, liver failure can be life-threatening if not treated quickly.

  • Can liver disease be cured?

    It depends on the type of liver disease. Diseases like cirrhosis, for example, cannot be cured. But many cases of liver disease can be successfully managed with lifestyle changes, medications, or surgery.