The liver is a large, reddish-brown organ that sits mainly in the upper-right portion of the abdomen above the stomach and below the diaphragm.
Weighing around 1.3 kg in females and 1.8 kg in males, the liver is the largest solid organ in the body. The liver holds around 13% of the body’s blood supply and performs approximately 500 different functions.
The liver is made up of cells called hepatocytes, which absorb nutrients and detoxify the blood by eliminating harmful substances. The liver is, therefore, a vital organ for digestion and ridding the body of toxins.
Liver disease can occur as an inherited condition or be caused by various factors that lead to liver damage such as viral infection, alcohol use or obesity, for example. Long-term or chronic liver damage can eventually lead to scarring of the organ, a condition referred to as cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is a non-reversible, dangerous condition that can lead to liver failure.
Symptoms of liver disease
Over a hundred different types of liver disease are currently known to exist and symptoms can vary widely depending on whether a patient has hepatitis, alcoholic liver disease, fatty liver disease or cirrhosis, for example.
Furthermore, symptoms are not always obvious in the early stages of liver disease. Symptoms can be mild and non-specific such as
- Loss of appetite
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
As cirrhosis progresses, symptoms and complications can appear that make it apparent that the liver is not doing well. These could be the symptoms of Hepatic Encephalopathy (HE) and other complications due to cirrhosis. In addition to Hepatic Encephalopathy (HE), following complications are signs of liver damage or cirrhosis:
- Fluid build up and painful swelling of the legs (edema) and abdomen (ascites)
- Bruising and bleeding easily
- Enlarged veins in the lower esophagus and stomach (gastropathy)
- Enlarged spleen (splenomegaly)
- Stone-like particles in gallbladder and bile duct (gallstones)
- Liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma)
Chronic liver failure indicates that the liver has been failing gradually, possibly for years.
Symptoms of liver cirrhosis
In the early stages of cirrhosis, symptoms can again be non-specific and mild. Patients may, therefore, overlook symptoms and attribute them to other conditions.
The term cirrhosis refers to the formation of scar tissue (fibrosis) in place of liver cells that have died as a result of long-term liver damage. This may have occurred due to excess alcohol intake, viral hepatitis or other factors that lead to toxicity of the liver.
As cirrhosis develops gradually and often without any obvious symptoms, the condition may go unnoticed until the damage is severe and likely to lead to liver failure.
Some of the symptoms of liver cirrhosis are described below:
- Bruising easily
- Hormone imbalance
- Spider angiomas
- Portal hypertension
When to see a doctor
Acute liver failure can develop quickly in an otherwise healthy person, and it is life-threatening. If you or someone you know suddenly develops a yellowing of the eyes or skin; tenderness in the upper abdomen; or any unusual changes in mental state, personality or behavior, seek medical attention right away.