Thursday, November 6, 2008

Surviving Hepatitis C and a Liver Transplant: Learn the Lingo

Information is what every patient needs when faced with illness or injury. No matter how much time you invest educating yourself about your condition, you'll never get enough or have too much info.

Let's face it: Medical professionals not only know lots of things we don't know, they communicate using a language that's arcane and confusing. For this reason, one of the first things patients should do is become familiar with the medical jargon specific to their illness.

Over the past couple of years I've expanded my vocabulary to include liver disease terminology, which was necessary so I could follow my doctors' conversations and instructions. Here are a few new words in my vocabulary that describe symptoms and conditions of liver disease (definitions are from

* Ascites - Accumulation of serous fluid in the peritoneal cavity, usually encountered wtih portal hypertension or heart failure. Uncomfortable accumulation of fluid causing abdominal swelling. This occurs when the blood flow through the liver is obstructed. (I referred to the swelling in my belly as my "liver baby" because I looked very pregnant.)

* Varices (Esophageal and Gastric) - Submucosal varices of the lower esophagus or gastric fundus mucosa are frequently caused by the development of portal collateral vessels as a result of portal hypertension. Abnormally dilated/stretched veins. Dilated veins; these can rupture, leading to massive bleeding. (These are swollen veins in the esophagus that could easily rupture and cause a patient to bleed to death; I managed to avoid this complication.)

* Encephalopathy - A variety of brain function abnormalities possibly caused by circulating gut-derived brain-toxic proteins not cleared by a dysfunctional liver; symptoms can include insomnia, confusion, disorientation. (I had a touch of this and it made me forgetful and sleepy - I referred to it as "liver dementia.")

Searching for these definitions often required looking up definitions of even more terms (e.g., "portal collateral vessels" in the definition of varices, above). Ultimately I was able to boil these terms down to the point that I understood what they were and more importantly, understood what they meant in terms of my illness. My vocabulary lessons continue to this day. has an extensive glossary of liver and Hepatitis C terms. If you know of other good resources that define medical words in layman's terms, please leave a comment and tell us about it. After all, you can never have too much information.

Photo credit: Thad Zajdowicz

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