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CHI St. Luke's Health Liver Health Outreach
6620 Main Street, Suite 1505
Houston, TX 77030
832-355-5119 / 800-72-LIVER
Fax: 832-355-2312

Abdomen
The area below the rib cage and above the legs, which contains the stomach, liver, spleen and bowels; also referred to as the “belly”.

Acute Hepatitis
Inflammation of the liver that happens suddenly and lasts approximately six months or less. Common causes for acute hepatitis include viral hepatitis A, B, C, D or E infection; short-term exposure to drugs or toxins, overdose of drugs or toxins, shock, and circulatory problems.

Albumin
A protein made inside the liver that circulates in the blood. The main functions of albumin are to move smaller molecules through the blood and maintain osmotic pressure, or keeping fluids and blood inside the blood vessels. Normal ranges are between 3.4 and 5.4 grams per deciliter (g/dL). Lower than normal levels of serum Albumin may be an indicator of kidney disease or liver disease, such as hepatitis, cirrhosis or ascites.

ALT (alanine amino-transferase, a.k.a. SGPT)
ALT is an enzyme that is found exclusively in liver cells, where it helps chemical reactions occur. When liver cells are damaged, ALT leaks into the bloodstream; elevated levels of ALT in the bloodstream are an indicator of possible liver disease, such as hepatitis or cirrhosis.

Antibody
Proteins produced by the body’s immune system that detect invading bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms (antigens) in the bloodstream. Screening for hepatitis C will detect the presence of hepatitis C antibodies. In some cases, the immune system may clear itself of an antigen, however the antibodies will remain in the bloodstream. Approximately 20% of people infected with viral hepatitis C will clear the virus on their own within 6 months, but they will always test positive for hepatitis C antibodies.

AST (Aspartate aminotransferase, a.k.a. SGOT)
AST is an enzyme that is found in the liver, the heart, and skeletal muscle. Its functions include helping chemical reactions occur. When liver cells are damaged, AST leaks into the bloodstream; elevated levels of AST in the bloodstream are an indicator of possible liver disease, such as hepatitis or cirrhosis.

Ascites
Low levels of albumin and high pressure in the blood vessels cause fluid to accumulate in the abdomen between the tissue lining and the internal organs, creating the feeling of a full or swollen feeling in the upper belly. This is one of the prominent indicators of liver disease.

Autoimmune Hepatitis
A potentially genetic form of liver disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks the liver, which leads to liver inflammation and damage. It is most common among young girls and women. Unlike viral hepatitis, autoimmune hepatitis is not preventable.

Biliary Atresia
A congenital defect (present at time of birth) which causes a blockage in the tubes that transport bile from the liver to the gallbladder.

Billirubin
A yellow-colored component of bile that is processed in the liver when old red blood cells are broken down by the body. Liver disease such as hepatitis or cirrhosis may drastically increase levels of Billirubin, which can lead to Jaundice.

Boceprevir (Victrelis)
Protease inhibitor prescribed to treat hepatitis C in patients who have never been treated for HCV before, or who have previously failed another form of treatment.

Chronic Hepatitis
Generally defined as inflammation in the liver occurring for more than six months duration. Causes include drugs, viruses, autoimmune liver disease, Hemochromatosis, and Wilson’s disease.

Cirrhosis
Scarring of the liver and the endpoint of various types of liver disease. It involves extensive fibrosis (scarring) throughout the liver and is generally considered to be irreversible. Cirrhosis can be broken down into two phases: stable cirrhosis, during which the liver continues to perform its normal functions, and unstable or decompensated cirrhosis, during which the liver is not able to perform its normal functions.

Consensus Interferon (INFERGEN)
A brand of interferon.

Decompensated Cirrhosis
Also referred to as “unstable cirrhosis” in which there is fibrosis and scarring throughout the liver and is associated with symptoms of Ascites, encephalopathy, or variceal bleeding. Liver transplantation should be considered at this time.

Diuretics
Drugs that promote urination and allow the body to get rid of excess fluid and salts. They are often used to control Ascites and accumulation of edema or fluid in the lower extremities.

Edema
The accumulation of fluid in the soft tissues outside the blood vessels, particularly in the legs and around the ankles. Severe edema can extend from the ankles up into the abdomen.

Encephalopathy
Hepatic encephalopathy is mental confusion caused by the buildup of toxic waste products in the body that would normally be broken down by the liver.

End-Stage Liver Disease
The last stage of cirrhosis and decompensated cirrhosis. Symptoms include muscle wasting, fatigue, Ascites, encephalopathy, and variceal bleeding.

Furosemide
A diuretic prescribed for people with liver disease.

Gilbert’s Syndrome
A genetic disorder in which the liver does not process Billirubin properly.

Hemochromatosis
A disorder that causes too much iron to be absorbed in the gastro-intestinal system and can lead to swelling and iron buildup in the liver and other body tissues. There are two types: primary and secondary. Primary Hemochromatosis is genetically inherited, whereas secondary Hemochromatosis is a result of complications of co-existing condition such as different types of anemia.

Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is a virus that causes inflammation (swelling) in the cells of the liver. It is typically spread through oral-fecal contact, such as contaminated shellfish or improper hand washing techniques. There is a vaccine for hepatitis A.

Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is a virus that causes inflammation (swelling) in the cells of the liver. It is typically spread through contact with infected blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and other bodily fluids. There is a vaccine for hepatitis B.

Hepatitis C (HCV)
A liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus, which is transmitted through contact with contaminated blood. Infection may be asymptomatic (symptom-free), where chronic infection can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C Antibody
Blood tests that screen for hepatitis C look for the presence of hepatitis C antibodies. If antibodies are detected it means that at some point you have been infected with the hepatitis C virus, since your immune system has created antibodies against it. A secondary test, known as a qualitative or quantitative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) is required to confirm an infection.

Hepatitis C RNA
A blood test is performed to detect the presence or absence of hepatitis C RNA. A qualitative test detects the presence of hepatitis C RNA and confirms a diagnosis of “chronic hepatitis C.” A quantitative test assigns a specific numerical value, or a viral load, to the levels of hepatitis C RNA in the blood.

Hepatologist
A physician who specializes in the treatment of individuals with liver disease.

HIV
Human Immunodeficiency Virus, the virus that causes AIDS. Approximately 30% of people infected with HIV are co-infected with chronic hepatitis C.

Incivek (Telaprevir)
A protease inhibitor prescribed to treat chronic hepatitis C.

Interferon
A medication that is prescribed to treat hepatitis C by preventing the virus from multiplying in the body. It is injected subcutaneously (in the skin) or intramuscularly (in the muscle). When used to treat hepatitis C, individual responses may be divided into three categories: (1) sustained responders, who clear the virus from their blood after treatment, (2) nonresponders (or relapsers) whose viral loads do not drop during treatment, and (3) partial responders, whose viral loads drop during treatment but climbs back up after treatment is finished.

Intron A
A brand of interferon manufactured by the Schering-Plough Corporation.

Jaundice
A yellowing of the skin, eyes and mucus membranes due to build up of Billirubin levels in the body. This may be caused by liver dysfunction, or be a sign of hemolysis (excessive breakdown of blood cells.)

Lactulose
A non-absorbable fluid that promotes loose bowel movements, helping to eliminate toxins from the body that are normally cleared by the liver. It may also be used to treat encephalopathy (confusion) that results from a buildup of toxins in the body.

Liver Biopsy
A sample of liver tissue is taken with a catheter. This procedure is considered the “gold standard’ for determining the extent of liver damage and the cause of the liver disease.

Liver Function Test (LFT)
A series of diagnostic tests that determine the health of the liver by measuring levels of albumin, billirubin, ALT, AST and more.

Multidose Pen
A prefilled pen that allows for more convenient dosing and injecting of interferon.

Open Cholecystectomy
The classic surgical treatment for gallstones where the patient’s gallbladder is removed through an abdominal incision.

Paracentesis
Procedure during which the excess fluid or Ascites is drained by inserting a needle in the abdomen.

PCR (polymerase chain reaction)
Test that is used to determine the presence, absence, and/or viral load of chronic hepatitis C virus in the blood and other body tissue. This test can detect the virus as early as three days after initial infection. Being PCR negative does not necessarily mean that HCV has disappeared completely; while it may be undetectable in the blood it may still be present in liver cells and certain white blood cells. These can also be tested, but such extensive screening is rarely carried out.

Pegylated Interferon
Interferon is attached to molecules of polyethylene glycol and is longer acting than conventional forms of interferon. Injections are administered once per week compared with three times per week with other types of interferon. Due to higher sustained levels of interferon in the blood, pegylated interferon is thought to have a greater response against hepatitis c. When used in combination with Ribavirin, studies have shown that pegylated interferon produces a sustained virologcial response in 56-61% of patients, overall.

Primary Biliary Cirrhosis
Inflammation in the bile ducts that blocks the flow of bile from the liver. The blockage damages liver cells and leads to scarring (cirrhosis).

Prothrombin Time (PT)
An indicator for short-term liver function that measures the time it takes for blood to clot. If the blood takes longer than normal to clot, this may be a possible sign of liver disease.

Pruritus
Itching and irritation of the skin due to liver disease.

Qualitative RNA Assay
A test that determines the presence of hepatitis C RNA in the blood. Results are reported as “positive” or “negative”. This test is more sensitive than the quantitative hepatitis C RNA assays.

Quantitative RNA Assay
A test to determine the quantity of hepatitis C RNA present in the blood. The test is also used to assess response to therapy by measuring the amount of hepatitis C RNA in the bloodstream.

Rebetron
An antiviral compound of interferon and Ribavirin.

RIBA
Recombinant immunoblot Assay. This is a more a specific method of detecting hepatitis C antibodies.

Ribavirin
An antiviral compound that is used with interferon to treat hepatitis C. Ribavirin works by preventing the hepatitis C virus from spreading throughout the body.

RNA (ribonucleic acid)
Hepatitis C is an RNA virus, meaning it carries its genetic information to make copies of the virus in its RNA.

Roferon
A formulation of interferon.

Spontaneous Bacterial Peritonitis (SBP)
The growth of bacteria in the ascetic fluid in the abdomen as a result of Ascites or cirrhosis; generally treatable with antibiotics.

Surgical Shunt
A surgical technique employed to relieve the increased pressure in the vessels draining around the liver to prevent variceal bleeding.

TIPS (transcutaneous interhepatic portosystemic shunt)
Method for relieving the increased pressure in the major blood vessels feeding into a cirrhotic liver.

Transaminases or Serum Liver Enzymes
Refers to the liver enzymes AST and ALT. In instances of liver damage or inflammation these enzymes may leak into the bloodstream leading to higher than normal detectable levels.

Varices
Engorged blood vessels in the lining of the esophagus and stomach as a result of cirrhosis which may lead to vomiting large quantities of bright red blood, known as Emesis.

Victrelis (Boceprevir)
Protease inhibitor prescribed to treat hepatitis C in patients who have never been treated for HCV before, or who have previously failed another form of treatment.

Viral Hepatitis
Inflammation of the liver cells caused by hepatitis A, B, C, D, E and G.

Virus
A microscopic particle of protein and nucleic acid that enters a cell(host) and reproduces using the host cell’s metabolic properties. Unlike bacteria which can be cured with antibiotics, viruses require stronger therapy in order to be cleared from the body.

Wilson ’s disease
A genetic defect leading to excessive accumulation of copper in the body which can lead to cirrhosis of the liver. Wilson’s disease is diagnosed with a liver biopsy; symptoms include jerky muscular movements and copper-colored rings around the eyes.