Vocabulary of Liver Problems

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  • 00:00 Color Indication
  • 00:20 Hepatitis,…
  • 2:10 Steatosis & Steatohepatitis
  • 3:05 Icterus and Jaundice
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Color can indicate disease! This specific lesson will point out the color that's associated with problems affecting the liver, such as hepatitis and cirrhosis.

Color Indication

Color indicates a lot. Red may indicate anger. Blue may indicate calm. Green may make you think of money. What does yellow make you think of? Probably not what this lesson's about: problems with the liver and the terminology thereof. You'll soon learn how yellow plays a part in all of this.

Hepatitis, Hepatomegaly, & Cirrhosis

The very general term for inflammation of the liver is hepatitis where 'hepat/o' means 'liver' and '-itis' means inflammation. Viruses and poisons can easily cause inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis, in the short term, may lead to the enlargement of the liver, or hepatomegaly. Again, 'hepat/o' means 'liver' and '-megaly' means 'enlargement.'

However, hepatitis, namely over the very long run, can lead to the shrinking of the liver. The liver shrinks in a condition called cirrhosis, which is the fibrosis (or scarring) of liver tissue with accompanying physiological dysfunction of the liver, all as a result of long-lasting injury to the liver. The word 'cirrhosis' comes from the Greek for 'yellowish' because in advanced stages of this disease, the liver turns a yellow-tan color.

The reason the liver shrinks in cirrhosis is because scar tissue is really tight. Just imagine the scar tissue is a rubber band. If you tie a rubber band tightly around your finger, the part of the finger where the rubber band is taut will have reduced in size.

An even better example is to imagine the scar tissue as a corset. The corset shrinks the waistline by tightening around it. In cirrhosis, a lot of scar tissue replaces normal liver tissue and you can now imagine why the liver shrinks in cirrhosis, especially during its advanced stages.

Those individuals who have cirrhosis will likely have another problem, called ascites, the abnormal (or pathological) accumulation of serous (or watery) fluid in the abdominal cavity. People with ascites may be mistaken for being fat because their abdominal region is so big and swollen. But unlike truly overweight people, individuals with ascites commonly have thin arms with protruding ribs.

Steatosis & Steatohepatitis

One sure fire way to get cirrhosis and ascites is to abuse alcohol. However, there are liver problems that are not associated with alcohol, some of them are collectively called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). No one is quite sure what causes NAFLD but everything from many different types of prescription drugs to metabolic disorders have been associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

NAFLD includes steatosis, a mild form of NAFLD where fat is accumulated in the liver, usually without accompanying liver damage, and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (or NASH), a more serious form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease where fat accumulates in the liver alongside inflammation of the liver, which can lead to cirrhosis. 'Steato/' means 'fat,' by the way.

Icterus and Jaundice

Ok, so I've kept you waiting long enough on the color thing. What in the world does yellow have to do with this lesson besides cirrhosis? If yellow still doesn't make you think of a liver problem, it will in a second.

You see, when a person has liver disease, especially serious liver disease, they may also have jaundice, the yellowing of the whites of the eyes, mucous membranes, and skin as a result of an excess of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a yellowish pigment that isn't properly excreted out of the body when the liver gets sick enough because it's the liver's job to process this pigment in order for the body to get rid of it.

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