According to researchers, the main causes of persistent liver disease include:
- chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection
- chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection
- alcoholic liver disease (ALD)
- non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
- autoimmune liver disease
Regardless of the instigator of chronic liver disease, liver damage usually proceeds along a common route, causing chronic inflammation, the death of formerly healthy liver tissue and its replacement by scar tissue. This process is called fibrosis. If the underlying cause of chronic liver disease is left untreated, the scarring eventually spreads throughout the liver and this vital organ becomes increasingly dysfunctional. This can lead to serious health complications, including in some cases, liver cancer.
Assessing fibrosis is important so that doctors and their patients can keep abreast of changes to this organ and determine if interventions to improve the health of the liver are having an effect. In the case of ALD and NAFLD, such interventions are behavioural, including cutting back on alcohol and incorporating exercise into daily routines. In the cases of viral infections—HBV and HCV—interventions include treatment with antiviral medicines.