The long-term effect of liver damage may result in liver failure, which is usually treated through organ transplants. Many people do not show any early signs of liver damage because the liver can take decades to deteriorate. Someone who does display symptoms arising from liver damage may have itchy skin, fatigue, dark urine, yellowing skin or eyes, and abdominal fluid retention. Symptoms are unique to each individual, so the effect of liver damage might resemble other diseases.
The liver is a sensitive organ that can become damaged through excessive alcohol consumption, hepatitis, or an acetaminophen overdose. Alcoholism combined with daily acetaminophen use can cause rapid liver deterioration. Other causes include malnutrition, genetic problems, cancer, or poisonous mushroom ingestion. The most common causes of liver damage are hepatitis exposure and long-term alcohol abuse. These two causes can take years to damage the liver.
Some of the effects of liver damage can be treated if the deterioration is not too extensive. The liver is one organ that can regenerate and heal itself over time. Someone who overdoses on acetaminophen can rapidly destroy up to 60 percent of the liver, but the organ will repair itself within 30 days if no other poisons are ingested.
An alcoholic can usually repair his liver even after years of alcohol abuse as long as he abstains from drinking. Alcohol is a poison that affects the liver, but most people can recover from the damage if they do not drink in excess. If too much scar tissue has formed, however, the effect of liver damage can progress into cirrhosis. This is a type of late-stage liver damage that usually requires a liver transplant.
Once cirrhosis has set in, liver failure can occur, as too much scarring on the organ prevents it from repairing itself. Acute failure can occur as rapidly as two days after onset. Most often, however, liver failure is a slow process that takes years. Symptoms of liver failure might include appetite loss, diarrhea, jaundice, swollen stomach, skin bruising, mental confusion, fatigue, or even coma.
Liver failure is one effect of liver damage that usually takes years to occur. It can only be corrected through a healthy liver transplant. If the liver has enough healthy tissue, surgeons might be able to remove the scarred sections and leave the healthy parts to regrow. On the other hand, acute liver failure caused by a reaction to a drug is usually reversible without surgery. Since the liver is an essential organ to the body, if it fails, death follows quickly.