Liver and pancreas disorders: symptoms, causes and treatment

A range of disorders can affect your liver and pancreas. Various conditions can make it difficult for these organs to perform the essential tasks your body needs to digest food, absorb nutrients, and manage toxins.

Some conditions of the liver and pancreas are acute and can be treated and resolved quickly. Other disorders are chronic and will need to be managed with medications and lifestyle adjustments.

The treatments used will depend on the exact condition and its severity.

This article reviews the types of disorders that can affect the liver and pancreas, along with their symptoms and treatments.

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The liver and pancreas use the bile duct to transport bile and pancreatic juices to the duodenum to aid digestion. Artwork by Jason Hoffmann

Disorders of the pancreas and liver prevent your body from processing food, managing waste, and functioning properly. There is a wide range of conditions that can affect these organs. Common conditions are listed below.

liver disorders

Common liver disorders include:

  • Fatty liver disease: Fatty liver disease occurs when too much fat builds up in and around your liver. This interferes with liver function and processes. It can be caused by obesity, alcohol and various other causes.
  • Hepatitis: Hepatitis occurs due to swelling of the liver. It can be chronic or acute. Some forms of hepatitis, such as hepatitis C, are caused by an infection. Others, like autoimmune hepatitis, are not.
  • Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis is a liver condition caused by long-term liver damage and scarring. It is often the result of heavy alcohol consumption.
  • Liver cancer:Liver cancer is a tumoral growth on the liver. This cancer can be aggressive and difficult to treat.
  • Hepatic insufficiency: Liver failure occurs when your liver is too damaged to function properly. This can result from untreated fatty liver disease, heavy drinking, infection, or drug overdose.

Pancreatic disorders

Common conditions that affect the pancreas include:

  • Pancreatitis: Pancreatitis is a inflammation of the pancreas. It can be acute, chronic or hereditary.
  • Pancreatic cyst: A pancreatic cyst is a noncancerous growth on the ducts that carry pancreatic juices between the pancreas and the small intestine.
  • Pancreatic cancer:Pancreatic cancer is a tumoral growth on the pancreas. This cancer can be difficult to treat.
  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI): EPI is a condition that prevents your pancreas from producing enough digestive enzymes. This makes it difficult for your body to digest food.

Since your liver and pancreas affect how you process food, disorders of the pancreas and liver can cause similar symptoms. For example, you might experience nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and swelling if you have a condition that affects either organ. You can see more specific symptoms below.

Symptoms of a liver disorder

Common symptoms of liver disease include:

Symptoms of a Pancreatic Disorder

Symptoms of pancreatic conditions include:

When to contact a doctor

It is important to note that you may not experience any symptoms. It is common for the early stages of cancer and conditions such as fatty liver disease to cause no symptoms.

The symptoms you have may be mild and easily mistaken for a stomach bug or other minor ailment. That’s why it’s always a good idea to see if you have any symptoms that could be signs of liver or pancreatic disease, especially if you’ve had them for more than a week or two.

Many factors can cause problems with the liver and pancreas. Some conditions are the result of infections, while others are genetic. However, certain risk factors make liver and pancreas problems more likely. These include:

In addition, certain liver and pancreatic disorders increase the risk of more serious liver and pancreatic diseases. For example, pancreatitis increases your risk of pancreatic cancer.

If you are unsure about your risk for liver and pancreas disorders, it is best to consult a doctor. They can help you assess your risk and develop a plan to deal with it.

The exact diagnostic process will depend on the disorder your doctor suspects. However, you will find some common steps in most screening tests for liver and pancreas disorders. These include:

  • a review of your medical history and family medical history
  • a physical examination
  • blood test that includes a pancreatic and liver enzyme panel
  • a urine sample
  • a stool sample
  • a CT scan, MRI, or other imaging tests
  • an endoscopic imaging test that provides a close-up view of your pancreas, liver, and bile ducts
  • a biopsy to analyze a tissue sample if cancer is suspected

Treatment will depend on the disorder. In many cases, lifestyle changes could be the first step. In other cases, you might start with antibiotics or even surgery. You can see some common treatment options below.

  • Lifestyle changes: You may be advised to consider healthy lifestyle measures such as reducing your alcohol intake if you drink, reducing the amount of fat in your diet, increasing your level of physical activity, reaching a moderate weight, or quitting smoke if you smoke. These early stages are especially common with conditions such as fatty liver disease.
  • Antibiotics or antivirals: Conditions such as pancreatitis and certain types of hepatitis can be treated with antibiotic or antiviral medications. The exact medications you take and for how long depends on your condition and its severity.
  • Enzymes: Enzyme medications can help you digest food. Doctors sometimes prescribe these enzymes for people with pancreatic disorders.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): ERCP is surgery that uses a tool called an endoscope to perform procedures to repair parts of your liver, pancreas, or the ducts around them. ECRP can remove damaged tissue, remove blockages, and place stents.
  • Tumor removal surgery: In the case of liver or pancreatic cancer, surgery to remove the tumor is still the primary treatment option. You may also undergo chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapyor other specialized cancer treatments.

Liver and pancreas cleanses have been the subject of much discussion in recent years. You may have seen detox drinks and other products advertised claiming they can cleanse your liver. You’ve probably wondered what exactly these cleanses are and if they work.

Liver and pancreas cleanses claim they can repair your liver. Many even claim that they can repair the damage after a vacation or a weekend of drinking. However, these claims are not supported by research or by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In fact, some of these products could be dangerous and damage your liver.

Some liver and pancreas cleanses contain products with some science behind them. For instance, milk thistle and Turmeric appear to have positive effects on liver health.

However, these claims do not have enough data for these ingredients to be FDA-approved for liver health. And many of the additional ingredients found in liver and pancreatic cleanse products often have less scientific backing.

You don’t need liver or pancreas cleansers. You can repair the damage done to your organs by taking steps such as:

  • quit smoking if you smoke
  • lose weight if needed
  • reduce alcohol consumption if you drink

While these lifestyle methods don’t deliver results overnight, as some cleanses claim, they do deliver results. And not only will you be following proven science, but you will also be improving your overall health.

Your liver and pancreas provide vital functions your body needs to digest, absorb, and use nutrients.

A problem with your liver or pancreas can cause nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and many other symptoms. The exact symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment will depend on the condition and severity of the disorder.

Many liver and pancreatic disorders can be managed with lifestyle changes such as losing weight, quitting smoking, and reducing alcohol consumption. Other treatments may include medication or surgery.

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