Chronic liver disease: Major health issue for U.S. Hispanics

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    Chronic liver disease is defined by the Wexner Medical Center as the gradual destruction of liver tissue, characterized by the process of scar tissue slowly replacing healthy tissue, reducing blood flow and thus limiting proper liver function.

    chronic liver disease

    Chronic liver disease can be caused by a number of factors, including alcohol abuse and diabetes. (Shutterstock)

    This scarring of the liver, also known as cirrhosis, can be caused by a number of factors, including exposure to hepatitis viruses, alcohol abuse, obesity, and diabetes—all issues the Hispanic community in the U.S.  currently struggles with.

    Because of this, chronic liver disease is one of the primary health issues affecting Hispanics in the United States. In fact, Hispanic men are 1.7 times more likely to die from liver disease than non-Hispanic white men, and Hispanic women are 1.8 times more likely to die from the condition compared to non-Hispanic white women.

    Evidence also suggests Hispanics are predisposed to fatty liver disease, a condition which can result in cirrhosis due to excess fat being stored in the liver, and while the condition is common among adults, fatty liver disease is being found more often among Hispanic children.

    The Huffington Post reported a study done by the USC Childhood Obesity Research Center found that 38 percent of obese Hispanic children and adolescents in Los Angeles have liver fat levels indicating the presence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

    What’s more, genetics seems to play a strong role for Hispanics. Approximately 49 percent of the Hispanic population, compared to 23 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 17 percent of non-Hispanic blacks, carry a gene associated with higher liver fat content. Studies show that the effect of this gene can be observed in Hispanics as young as 8 years old.

    “Chronic liver disease is a major cause of morbidity and mortality among Hispanic people living in the United States,” stated a research published in 2011’s Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. “Environmental, genetic, and behavioral factors, as well as socioeconomic and health care disparities among this ethnic group have emerged as important public health concerns.”

    Researchers of the study indicated the Hispanic population had a higher incidence and more aggressive pattern of disease and overall worse treatment outcomes than in the non-Hispanic white population for chronic liver diseases such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, viral hepatitis B and C, co-infection of viral hepatitis with human immunodeficiency virus, alcoholic cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma, autoimmune hepatitis, and primary biliary cirrhosis.

    Primary causes of chronic liver disease

    For Hispanics, chronic liver disease is caused by a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. Alcohol abuse is the most common cause of cirrhosis according to Wexner Medical Center, and while Hispanics tend to drink less alcohol compared to non-Hispanic whites overall, those who do drink tend to do so in excess.

    Other causes of chronic liver disease include:

    • Hepatitis and other viral infections
    • Drug use
    • Chemical exposure
    • Bile duct obstruction
    • Autoimmune disease
    • Glycogen storage disease
    • Sudden weight loss
    • Malnutrition
    • Diabetes
    • Iron and copper accumulation

    Symptoms of chronic liver disease

    chronic liver disease

    Fatty liver disease can lead to cirrhosis, scarring of the liver. (Shutterstock)

    Hispanics with chronic liver disease may not always experience symptoms; the severity of the condition depends on how much scarring has occurred within the liver.

    Symptoms when they appear may include:

    • Weight loss
    • Vomiting of blood
    • Gallstones
    • Hair loss
    • Muscle loss
    • Redness of palms
    • Spider-like veins in the skin
    • Loss of appetite
    • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)
    • Breast enlargement in men
    • Fluid build-up in the abdominal cavity
    • Itching
    • Abnormal nerve function
    • Weakness
    • Shrinking of the testes

    Unfortunately, cirrhosis is considered a progressive disease, and damage to the liver is irreversible.

    While some situations may warrant a full liver transplant, dietary adjustments and supplementation along with medication can often stop or delay chronic liver disease.

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