Symptoms of Liver Disease
The liver is an organ about the size of a soccer ball. It is located just below the rib cage on the right side of the abdomen. The liver is essential for digesting food and removing toxic substances from the body.
Liver disease can be inherited (genetic). Liver problems can also be caused by a variety of factors that damage the liver, such as viruses, alcohol use, and obesity.
Over time, conditions that damage the liver can lead to scarring (cirrhosis), this causes liver failure which is a life-threatening condition. But early treatment can give the liver time to heal.
Liver disease doesn’t always cause noticeable signs and symptoms. If signs and symptoms of liver disease are present, they may include the following:
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Bloating and abdominal pain
- Swelling in the legs and ankles
- Skin itch
- Dark colored urine
- Pale color of stool
- Chronic fatigue
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Tendency to bruise easily
When to see the doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any persistent symptoms or signs that worry you. Seek immediate medical attention if you have abdominal pain so severe that you cannot sit still.
Liver disease has many causes.
Parasites and viruses can infect the liver, causing inflammation that decreases liver function. Viruses that cause liver injury can be transmitted through contaminated blood or semen, water or food, or through close contact with a person who is infected. The most common types of liver infection are hepatitis viruses, and include:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
Anomaly in the immune system
Diseases in which the immune system attacks certain parts of the body (autoimmune) can affect the liver. Examples of autoimmune liver diseases include:
- Autoimmune hepatitis
- Primary biliary cholangitis
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis
An abnormal gene inherited from one or both parents can cause various substances to build up in the liver, causing liver damage. Genetic liver diseases include:
- Wilson disease
- Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency
Cancer and other tumors
- Liver cancer
- Bile duct cancer
- Liver adenoma
Here are other common causes of liver disease:
- Chronic alcohol abuse
- Fat accumulation in the liver (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease)
- Certain prescription or over-the-counter medications
- Certain herbal compounds
Factors that can increase the risk of liver disease are:
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Type 2 diabetes
- Tattoos or body piercings
- Injecting drugs with shared needles
- Blood transfusion before 1992
- Exposure to blood and body fluids of other people
- Unprotected sex
- Exposure to certain chemicals or toxins
- Family history of liver diseas
Complications of liver disease are variable, depending on the cause of the liver problems. Untreated liver disease can progress to liver failure, a life-threatening disease.
How to prevent liver disease:
- Drink alcohol in moderation. For healthy adults, drinking in moderation means one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. Heavy or high-risk alcohol use is defined as more than eight drinks a week for women and more than 15 drinks a week for men.
- Avoid risky behaviors. Use a condom during sex. If you get tattoos or body piercings, choose the place well; above all cleaning and security measures. Get help if you use illicit drugs intravenously and don’t share needles to inject drugs.
- Get vaccinated. If you are at higher risk for hepatitis or have already been infected with any type of hepatitis virus, talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
- Use medications wisely. Take prescription and over-the-counter medications only when you need them and in the recommended doses. Don’t mix medications with alcohol. Check with your doctor before mixing herbal supplements or prescription or over-the-counter medications.
- Avoid contact with the blood or other body fluids of other people. Hepatitis viruses can be spread by accidental needle sticks or improper cleaning of blood or other body fluids.
- Keep your food safe. Wash your hands well before eating or preparing food. If you’re traveling to a developing country, use bottled water for drinking, washing your hands, and brushing your teeth.
- Be careful with sprinklers. Make sure to use these products in a well-ventilated area, and wear a mask when spraying insecticides, fungicides, paint, and other toxic chemicals. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
- Protect the skin. When using insecticides and other toxic chemicals, wear gloves, long sleeves, a hat, and a mask so the chemicals won’t be absorbed through your skin.
- Keep a healthy weight. Obesity can lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.