Liver Damage: Signs & Symptoms

Instructor: Veronika Polozkova

Masters in International Health. Lesson development experience on different levels from basic alimentary school to academic master level. Languages: English, Dutch, Russian

Did you know that symptoms of liver problems might not appear until the liver has suffered extensive damage? Learn more about causes and signs of liver damage in this lesson.

Liver Damage Causes

The liver plays an important role in regulating many processes in your body. It filters out toxins, ensures bile secretion, facilitates blood clotting and has many other metabolic functions. Liver damage can occur for multiple reasons. Use of toxic elements like alcohol, drugs and certain kinds of medication can damage liver tissue and is a common cause of liver failure.

When the liver is damaged for prolonged periods, its tissue starts to form scars. The scarred tissue cannot fulfill functions that healthy liver tissue does, which results in reduced liver function. This condition is called cirrhosis and is a common form of liver damage. A genetic condition called hemochromatosis is another reason for liver damage. It's caused by an accumulation of iron in the liver, which damages the tissue. These aren't the only problems the liver faces. Liver damage is also caused by viruses like hepatitis.

Your liver has a large reserve capacity, and it can repair itself to a great extent. Typical symptoms of liver dysfunction might not express themselves until extensive liver damage has occurred. This is also why it can often take many years until irreversible liver damage occurs.

For example, many people drink alcohol on a regular basis and don't experience liver damage. Even alcoholics who consume excessive amounts of alcohol don't always experience liver failure if they stop drinking before irreversible damage occurs. This is due to the liver's large restoring capacity. However, people who drink large amounts of alcohol for a prolonged period sometimes do end up with irreversible liver damage that leads to liver failure.

In some cases, liver damage from toxic elements happens so fast that the liver doesn't have enough time to restore, and acute liver failure occurs. For instance, acute liver damage can occur when severe toxicity due to binge drinking or medication overdose takes place or in cases where damage is caused by a virus that rapidly destroys liver cells. Poisonous wild mushrooms can also damage the liver very quickly and to a large extent.

Liver Damage Signs and Symptoms

Common first signs of liver damage include weakness, fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, diarrhea and nausea. These symptoms can indicate many digestion-related health problems; they primarily show that there's something wrong with metabolic processes in your body.

If liver damage manifests itself further, more symptoms start to occur. These might include a swollen abdomen, weight loss and jaundice, which expresses itself in yellow-colored skin and eyes.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Liver damage is diagnosed with blood tests because the liver plays a big role in filtering toxins, metabolism and blood clotting. Treatment focuses on eliminating the cause of the damage. If liver damage is caused by alcohol, drugs, medication or overconsumption of other toxic elements, abstaining from those damaging elements is crucial. In cases of viral liver damage, the virus should be treated.

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