It’s In The Family

Sunday December 4, 2022

There are many things we can inherit from our parents, and risks for poor liver health and liver disease are probably one of the least fun. Genetic liver diseases are a group of metabolic and genetic defects that cause problems with the liver. They usually mean chronic liver disease. If you have them, it’s often predictable that someone in your close family will too. There are a number of liver conditions that tend to be inherited – these are some of them.

  • This is one of the most common genetic liver diseases and means that the body stores too much iron. When no effective treatment is in place, hemochromatosis can impact the heart, pancreas and liver. There is a whole range of different symptoms that might indicate hemochromatosis. Some of the main ones to look out for include unexplained weight loss, joint pain, abdominal pain and loss of sexual function. Hemochromatosis is diagnosed through genetic and iron blood tests and may require a liver biopsy.
  • Alpha 1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. Although Alpha 1 Antitrypsin Deficiency tends to be rare, it is genetic, so it usually travels through families. This is a condition where the body lacks a particular enzyme, which leads to a build-up of abnormal Alpha 1 Antitrypsin in the liver. If this condition progresses, it can eventually cause liver disease and lung disease. There is currently no treatment for this liver disease, but patients who have it can undergo a liver transplant if there is no significant lung disease.
  • Wilson Disease. Another genetic condition that affects the liver, Wilson Disease, is problematic because it prevents the liver from removing copper from the body. Copper can damage organs in the body if it’s not removed. Copper build-up can be life-threatening. This is a challenging disease because symptoms are not usually noticeable until it has become serious. Treatment is available and will be focused on removing copper from the system and preventing this from re-accumulating. When a patient receives comprehensive treatment for Wilson Disease it can be prevented from progressing, and the existing condition can even be reversed. This requires a combination of therapy and medication.
  • Gilbert Syndrome. Someone with this condition inherits an excess of a substance called bilirubin, which is due to not having enough of the enzyme that usually processes bilirubin. It’s important to note that this is a syndrome, not a disease, so it does not cause illness and is not life-threatening. Some patients with Gilbert Syndrome might notice that their skin or eyes look yellow. However, not all do. No treatment is necessary because the syndrome doesn’t cause long-term problems – it is often diagnosed accidentally because there are no symptoms.

Inherited liver issues come in many different types, from the most serious liver disease that can considerably shorten life expectancy and experience to conditions that are so mild that they may go unnoticed for the whole of someone’s life.

Knowing and tracking your liver health early in life can pick up issues before they become problems, it can also help you develop a healthy lifestyle as 2 liver conditions together can speed up any damage being done.