Do You Know the Signs of Liver Damage?

5 minute read

By Selena Singh

The liver is an extremely important organ that plays a role in numerous functions in the body. Fortunately, you can learn everything you need to know about the signs of liver damage with a search online right now.

The liver detoxifies, regulates hormones, takes part in protein synthesis and more. Therefore, it’s no surprise that when this organ begins to fail, many problems occur within the body. Essentially, the body becomes imbalanced.

The Basics

There are several types of liver damage, but the two most common are cirrhosis and hepatitis. There are also many different causes for liver damage. Some forms of liver disease, such as hemochromatosis, are caused by genetics. Others, such as autoimmune hepatitis, are caused by autoimmune disorders when the body may begin to attack the liver, causing inflammation. Drugs, infections and toxins also damage the liver, leaving it vulnerable to chronic liver disease. Finally, cancer is as capable of attacking the liver as it is of attacking virtually any other organ in the body.

Here are some of the signs of liver damage. It is recommended that you seek help immediately if you’re experiencing any combination of these symptoms.

10. Skin and eyes that appear yellowish (jaundice)

If your skin or the whites of your eyes appear to be yellow in color, this may be a sign of jaundice.  This can occur when there is too much bilirubin in your system.

Bilirubin is a yellow pigment that is formed by the breakdown of dead red blood cells in the liver. Normally, the liver gets rid of bilirubin. But, if your liver is damaged, then it will be unable to get rid of bilirubin, resulting in jaundice.

Some types of liver damage which may cause jaundice are: cirrhosis, hepatitis and drugs. However, jaundice usually clears up when the underlying cause is treated.

9. Swelling in the legs and ankles

Albumin is a multi-functional protein that’s made in the liver. Most of it is found in the blood and it functions to maintain oncotic pressure. This means that it’s responsible for keeping water inside the blood vessels (since water is attracted to the protein). So, you can imagine that when the liver is damaged and starts producing fewer albumin, it can wreak havoc on your body. In particular, the low amounts of albumin in the blood cause the water in the plasma to leak into the empty space surrounding the cells. This results in fluid accumulation, and therefore swelling, in the legs and ankles. This condition is also known as edema.

8. Dark urine

If your liver is damaged and unable to breakdown bilirubin, then your urine will be dark due to the excess bilirubin excreted through the kidneys. If you have urine that’s dark in color (orange, amber or brown), it’s likely that something isn’t right.

Having a damaged liver can also cause your stool to be unusually light. This may be due to a lack of bile production by the liver. Bile, under normal conditions, gives stool its color.

7. Abdominal pain and swelling

The organs of the abdomen are contained in a membrane called the peritoneum. Normally, there is no fluid in the peritoneal cavity. However, with liver damage, fluid may build up in this space, a condition referred to as ascites. Again, this is due to the inability of the liver to produce enough albumin to retain the fluid in the bloodstream. One of the most important steps to treating ascites is to strictly reduce the salt intake.

Along with swelling, the abdominals may be painful on the upper right-hand side, where the liver is located. This may be caused by the liver growing in size due to the accumulation of fat, acute inflammation or injury.

6. Itchy skin

When you have liver damage and bile accumulates in the bloodstream, it can cause itchy skin (also known as pruritis). The exact cause of this is not clear but it’s thought to be due to a chemical in bile. The itchiness is typically most severe on the palms and soles of the feet in the evening or night. The severity of the itchiness does not correlate to the severity of the liver damage, but it varies from one person to the next.

5. Bruise and bleed easily

Liver damage can prevent the production of proteins that are required for blood clotting, known as coagulation factors. These normally protect us from bleeding excessively. When these are no longer being produced, there is a tendency to bruise and bleed easily. For example, people with liver damage tend to experience excessive bleeding even from minor cuts. Their nose and gums also bleed often. Also, injuries that would usually be mild could end up being life-threatening.

4. Hormone imbalance

It may be surprising to know that the liver plays a role in regulating your hormones, too. It does so by producing globulin proteins which bind to hormones, inactivating them if their levels are too high. One example of a hormone that the liver maintains balance of is the female sex hormone, estrogen. If the liver is damaged and the estrogen levels get too high, it can lead to an abnormally heavy menstrual flow, cysts and pain in the breasts as well as weight gain in the midsection.

The liver also functions to keep testosterone levels low in women. So, if there is liver damage and testosterone levels increase when they shouldn’t, women may develop unwanted facial hair and ovarian disorders such as PCOS. The liver is responsible for regulating insulin levels in both sexes. If the liver is dysfunctional, it can lead to an excess of insulin. This may result in a greater risk for diabetes.

3. Fatigue

The liver is clearly involved in numerous functions throughout the body, including production of certain proteins, hormone regulation, clearing toxins and more. If your liver is damaged, it might be overworking itself, thus using up energy and making you feel fatigued. In addition, thyroid disease and anemias often coexist with liver disease, so this could exacerbate the feeling of tiredness. The disturbances in fluid balance may also contribute to the problem.

Most people with fatigue due to liver damage experience the most fatigue early in the morning. Chronic fatigue is a good reason to seek medical attention, especially if it combines with any of the other symptoms of liver damage, as a toxic liver can sometimes lead to depression. Some things you can do to combat the lethargic feelings are: consume a healthy diet, exercise and modify your home or work life so that you aren’t overwhelmed.

2. Loss of appetite

Loss of appetite is a common symptom of many illnesses, so don’t assume that just because you’re experiencing it, that you have liver disease. However, if it co-occurs with another symptom of liver damage, then it’s definitely a cause for concern.

Loss of appetite is currently attributed to the presence of inflammatory cytokines in liver disease. Also, a feeling of fullness due to ascites (abdominal swelling) contributes to loss of appetite. This can quite often lead to an inadequate nutrient intake, which in itself can cause many other problems to arise.

1. Changes in weight

Liver damage can cause sudden weight gain or weight loss. Weight loss may occur if you are eating less because of poor appetite and nausea. Weight gain may also occur because of the hormone imbalance caused due to a damaged liver. For example, if too much estrogen is produced, a woman may experience weight gain in her thighs and waist. It’s important to treat the underlying cause of weight changes as well as make lifestyle changes in order to maintain good health.

Selena Singh