History of Liver Disease

Learn about the History of Liver Disease

Surgeons operating on patient
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History is the fountain of knowledge when it comes to identifying the origin of a subject and its development and advancements over a period of time. History not only increases awareness but also abets us to tread towards optimal health. It often serves as a future indicator and helps hepatitis patients focus and redirect efforts towards achieving goals in life, whether it is about defeating illness or just prospering more.

History, such as the formal recollection of liver disease in the past few decades, is very critical to our decision-making course about a certain subject area, which in turn arms us with the confidence to move forward.

Why Should We Know the History of Liver Disease?

Medicine, including the sub-category of hepatitis management, is a vast area, and its advancements over the eons have been upgraded to unprecedented levels. Research encompassing liver disease continues and is closely followed today while technology is exhausted for the good. Moreover, the branch of medicine that deals with the liver (hepatology) used to be a disintegrated field with knowledge passed on to generations in tads to a few distinct individuals. Over time, medicine has initiated ground-breaking protocols for hepatitis patients, thus, evolving liver disease treatment into a well-organized undertaking.

One of the reasons behind all these developments was learning from the past developments and improvising towards a better present.

For instance, the medieval period saw the surgery practices being systematized which was later enriched by military doctors in 19th century. History tells us that to improve upon an existing system, it needs to be known “why and how” things are the way they are. History also teaches us humility, as in our past we’ve suffered many impediments involving even the most intelligent people.

  Historical records of liver disease also prompt us the need to strike a balance between medicine and society so as to avoid past miscalculations.

Furthermore, historical accounts such as those of liver disease stress the requisite to have enough ethics to pursue and deliver clinical practices justly. The following bullet points indicate that lessons were learned from the past to have a better present and future:

  • Hippocratic oath coined in ancient Greece
  • Medieval periods characterized by some improvements in surgery
  • The Renaissance which witnessed the inventing of the microscope
  • Germ theory of disease in 19th century
  • Headways in antibiotics, genetics, lab technologies in 20th century
  • Professionalization of medical services
  • A 21st century marked by highly advanced devices

The very moment we’re concerned with the history of something, it makes it easier to recall all the details. Medicine itself, whether pertaining to liver diseases or not, becomes interesting. History is a strong “coach” when it comes to things “to do” versus “not to do” in professional fields as immense as medicine. Basically, the history of liver diseases needs even the most infinitesimal attention.

History of Liver Diseases at a Glance

While normally considered an organ, the liver is actually the largest gland in the human abdominal cavity.

Its functions extend to detoxifying metabolites, synthesis of proteins, and manufacture of digestive enzymes. The word “liver” originates from the Greek word hepar or hemat. It’s reddish-brown in color, consisting of four lobes of unequal sizes and forms. Liver diseases are often spotted late as the symptoms may not materialize in early stages. Some symptoms of liver diseases are often confused with manifestations of other diseases. However, with rapid integration of technology in medical diagnosis and treatment, detecting and treating liver diseases have become quite possible. Molecular (gene-based) methods have historically provided precise diagnostic tools.

Therapeutic endoscopy and interventional radiology have altered the way to treat liver diseases. Computed tomography, MRI, and ultrasonography are some of the imaging techniques which have helped attain higher resolution and precision. New medicines have been invented to treat liver diseases considered inveterate. Improved surgical care has helped in resolving difficult liver conditions. Transplantation is seen as an effective alternative to advanced liver diseases.

Categorization of Liver Diseases throughout History

There are hundreds of kinds of liver diseases. The most widespread liver diseases are alcoholic liver diseases, hepatitis, fascioliasis (liver rot), cirrhosis, primary biliary cirrhosis, hereditary diseases, and Gilbert’s syndrome. Alcohol was identified as a risk factor for liver diseases centuries ago. The main alcoholic liver diseases are due to excessive buildup of fat called fatty liver, acute inflammation of the liver called alcohol hepatitis and growth of scar liver tissues called alcoholic cirrhosis. These chronic liver diseases result in gradual degradation of liver over a period of time. To add to the liver diseases falling into this category are cirrhosis and fibrosis of the liver. Cirrhosis is a leading basis of death in the United States. In cirrhosis, normal functioning liver tissues change into scar tissues, progressively diminishing the blood flow through the liver. Fibrosis is the overgrowth of scar tissue due to infection, inflammation, injury, or healing. It inhibits liver’s proper functioning. Liver fibrosis stems from cirrhosis.

History of Hepatitis

Hepatitis is derived from the Greek word ‘hepar’ meaning liver and ‘itis’ meaning inflammation. Its meaning is itself evidence that hepatitis is inflammation of the liver suggested by the presence of inflammatory cells in liver tissue. Hepatitis was to be tested for prior to confirmation of blood donors in 1950’s. Before this period there were no known hepatitis viruses and virtually no discovery or progress had been made till then. At the present time, it appears that most, if not all known viral hepatitis agents, apart from HBV and HCV, do not cause significant health risks to blood recipients, except in very rare situations. The symptoms of hepatitis are sometimes vague, and so there can be no visible symptoms at all or there might be limited demonstration of symptoms in patients. It is termed “acute” when it lasts up to six months and chronic if it lingers for more than six months.

It can heal on its own, otherwise. it may develop into fibrosis (scarring of tissues) and cirrhosis. Poor appetite, discoloration of the skin, mucus membranes, conjunctivae, and malaise are displayed symptoms. There have been ground-breaking steps for the contrivance of medicines for hepatitis.  Vaccination and therapy have always been major hops in the history of liver diseases. In the near future, long-term treatment will be condensed to very short-term treatment of about 3-6 months with oral drugs. A very sound prediction is that, by the next decade, hepatitis in all its forms (acute or chronic) will be completely responsive to medical prescription.

Historical Significance of Hepatitis

The ability to discern hepatitis is a very long process as it can exhibit itself in several possible ways, such as viral infection, unhealthy lifestyle (excessive alcoholic consumption in continuation), sexually transmitted disorders, and several others. Throughout history, the classifying of hepatitis has always been varied. The most rife hepatitis is viral hepatitis, which can be due to microorganisms known as hepatitis A, hepatitis D (the cycle of hepatitis B causes hepatitis D) and hepatitis B is often transmitted sexually and is responsible for demises worldwide. It is mainly sprung by intimacy excluding hugging, kissing, eating from same utensil, breastfeeding or casual contact. Omnipresent vaccination is available in developed countries.

America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved vaccination for hepatitis C a while ago. Another major type of hepatitis is alcoholic hepatitis. The overdose limit in males is more than 80 grams per day and 40 grams per day in case of women. Together, hepatitis C and alcohol consumption accelerate the expansion of cirrhosis. Extreme cases also meet liver failure. Historically, another major cause of hepatitis is drug-induced hepatitis, with most cases realized in the US. Antibiotics, acetaminophen, and nervous system medication are just a few known to induce hepatitis.

Some of the anti-hepatitis methods that have been industrialized throughout history are imaging, biopsy, blood tests, clinical lab analysis, differential diagnosis, and diagnostic protocols. The consequence of hepatitis depends on the diseases caused or the symptoms prevalent and it often takes time to heal. The patient’s care also depends on the medication available for the brand of hepatitis he is anguishing from. While hepatitis has come a long way in terms of practical approaches in modern times, the history of liver disease should be taken into further consideration.


Cheung O, Sanyal AJ. Recent advances in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2009 May;25(3):230-7.

Schwartz JM, Reinus JF. Prevalence and natural history of alcoholic liver disease. Clin Liver Dis. 2012 Nov;16(4):659-66.

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