Hepatology is the branch of medicine that incorporates the study of and core diagnostic service for all conditions affecting the liver, also providing long term management of mild to severe liver disease. Often the trigger for referral is the discovery of abnormal liver function tests on routine screening; diseases and complications related to viral hepatitis and alcohol are the main reason for seeking specialist advice. Any abnormal liver function needs to be fully assessed as the diagnostic possibilities are very wide and early recognition can prevent progression to cirrhosis of the liver. Possible conditions can range from fatty liver disease to chronic inflammatory problems such as viral hepatitis or immune-based liver conditions, from genetic diseases to the effects of therapeutic drugs. Treatments are as diverse as referral for anti-viral therapy, initiation of modest immunosupression, or therapy to mobilise iron or copper from the liver.
If significant liver disease has been established, hepatological care involves the treatment of fluid retention, reducing the risks of complications such as internal haemorrhage, and regular surveillance for tumours that may complicate cirrhosis. In others, a hepatological consultation may remove anxieties concerning the presence of liver disease. When risk factors like high cholesterol levels come to light, in the form of abnormal routine blood tests, timely life-style advice can reduce the risk or delay the onset of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.