Metabolic Liver Disease

A number of metabolic conditions involve the liver and can cause chronic liver disease, leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Overview and Symptoms

A number of metabolic conditions involve the liver and can cause chronic liver disease, leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer. The three most common metabolic liver diseases are: hereditary hemochromatosis, Alpha-I antitrypsin deficiency (AATD), and Wilson Disease.

Hereditary hemochromatosis, also called iron overload disease, is genetic disorder in which the body absorbs and stores too much iron. Iron overload may also occur when the body receives many blood or intravenous iron infusions. The iron deposits in the liver, pancreas and other organs, which can cause cirrhosis of the liver. Iron overload can be diagnosed with simple blood tests.

Alpha-I antitrypsin deficiency (AATD) is a rare genetic condition that often causes emphysema in adults and/or liver disease at any age. In patients with AATD, the body makes large amounts of an abnormal protein, accumulating in the liver. This can gradually cause liver damage and scarring. Other complications of this disease include adult-onset chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Wilson Disease is a rare genetic disease in which copper accumulates in the liver, brain, eyes and other organs. This can cause acute liver failure or cirrhosis.


Physicians in the Liver Center and Hematology work together to treat patients with iron overload conditions. Treatment may include a procedure called therapeutic phlebotomy to remove iron from the body.

There is no cure for AATD. Treatment focuses on reducing the complications of the associated chronic liver disease. Patients with AATD are advised not to smoke tobacco or drink alcohol. For adults with end-stage liver disease due to AATD, liver transplantation is sometimes an option.

For Wilson Disease, your doctor will work closely with a nutritionist to help reduce dietary intake of copper. This may include avoiding foods such as shellfish, mushrooms, nuts and chocolate. Other treatment may include medications to enhance the excretion of copper from the body. A liver transplant may be necessary in patients with acute liver failure or when cirrhosis leads to liver failure.

Liver Center

BIDMC's Liver Center brings together an exceptional team of multidisciplinary providers to offer personalized care and advanced treatment options to patients with a variety of liver conditions.

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