Liver damage causes widespread issues in the body. The liver is a vital organ critical in digestion, energy metabolism, and for processing and removing the by-products of medications and toxins. Liver damage occurs when the liver becomes injured to the point where it cannot function well enough to effectively carry out its many roles. Liver failure requires medical attention and treatment as soon as possible. Diseases and long-term alcohol abuse are the most common causes of liver damage, and severe damage often develops over many years.
One of the more noticeable symptoms of liver damage is a swollen abdomen. Portal hypertension is a rise in blood pressure within the portal venous system network that originates in the intestine, stomach, spleen, and pancreas. The accumulation of protein-filled fluid — ascites — causes abdominal swelling. Many conditions cause ascites, but the most common cause is cirrhosis of the liver, and the swelling can affect the legs and ankles, as well.
Pressure in the abdomen is often associated with liver damage and can become tender or painful. The pain, described as throbbing or stabbing, is usually located in the rib cage on the lower right side of the abdomen and is sometimes accompanied by swelling. The discomfort can come and go and doctors may prescribe pain medication prior to diagnosing liver damage. However, some prescription medications can exacerbate liver damage.
One of the most recognized symptoms of liver damage is a yellowing of the skin and eyes — jaundice or icterus. The discoloration develops when a bile pigment, bilirubin, builds up in the blood. Damage to the liver prevents it from expelling excess bilirubin from the body.
Liver damage can also cause severe itching or pruritus. Human skin dries out as we age and is sensitive to arid environments and excessive heat, rendering the skin irritated and often flaky. Symptoms and signs of pruritus may include redness, leathery or scaly patches, bumps, or cracked skin, depending upon the cause The build-up of bile products due to liver disease also causes intense itchiness. Skin may become lighter or darker in some areas, developing a spotty appearance, and veins may become visible through the skin as it loses tone and color. If itchy skin lasts more than two weeks, or if other symptoms accompany it, a doctor should be notified. Itching can begin early in the course of liver disease, even before other symptoms appear.
Another effect of bile buildup in the body is dark yellow or brown urine. Various conditions can lead to changes in urine color, but prolonged periods of abnormal urine should prompt medical attention. A variety of conditions can cause a change in urine color, including dietary changes, medications, urinary tract infection, kidney stones, kidney disease, and even dehydration. If it persists, it's important to find out why.
Changes in bowel movements related to liver damage include constipation, pale stool, and other changes to stool appearances such as blood in the stool and changes in thickness. Any time bowel movement changes cannot be traced to a short-term digestive issue or persist for more than a few days, it is best to see a doctor.
Due to the havoc that liver damage can wreak on the digestive symptom, a loss of appetite is a common symptom. When this symptom develops in people with other symptoms of liver damage, it can indicate the condition is progressing toward liver failure. As such, medical attention is vital.
Nausea and vomiting are difficult symptoms for diagnosis, as that they can indicate many health issues from the stomach flu, to food poisoning, to liver damage. A range of digestive issues combined with other symptoms of liver damage, however, should encourage an individual to see a doctor. When the liver is extensively damaged, it can no longer rid the body of toxins, which can result in nausea.
Liver damage can also cause circulatory problems, usually resulting in fluid build-up in the legs, feet, and ankles. This can cause water retention and severe pain and swelling that can make walking difficult. People with liver damage may also experience puffiness in the eyelids, hands, and fingers. Lymphedema, swelling created by blocked lymphatic vessels leading to fluid in tissues, is another common symptom, though it is not exclusive to liver damage.
Unexplained and unintentional weight-loss is a tell-tale sign of illness. In the case of liver damage, symptoms such as lack of appetite can contribute to unexpected decreases in weight. Liver damage can also lead to weight gain, however. As the liver becomes more damaged and liver function starts to fail, fluid may build up in the abdominal cavity, a condition known as ascites. Fluid can also build up in the lower legs and ankles. This fluid retention can lead to fluid weight gain.
One of the more insidious symptoms of liver damage is chronic fatigue, a persistent tiredness that defies explanation through usual lifestyle factors. Unlike ordinary fatigue that can be remedied with rest, chronic fatigue in the context of liver damage is relentless and significantly impairs daily functioning. This symptom reflects the liver's diminished capacity to detoxify the blood, leading to an accumulation of toxins that can affect energy levels. Recognizing chronic fatigue in the early stages of liver damage can prompt timely medical intervention, potentially averting more severe consequences.
A liver struggling to fulfill its role in producing clotting proteins may manifest through an increased tendency to bruise or bleed excessively from minor injuries. This symptom, often overlooked as a sign of delicate skin, can actually indicate a deeper, underlying issue with liver function. Easy bruising points to the liver's compromised ability to support blood clotting, a critical process that prevents excessive bleeding. Awareness and understanding of this sign can lead to early diagnosis and treatment, helping to manage liver damage more effectively.
Liver damage can lead to a condition known as hepatic encephalopathy, characterized by mental confusion or difficulty concentrating. This occurs when the liver, impaired by damage, fails to remove toxins from the blood, allowing them to accumulate and affect brain function. Symptoms can range from mild confusion to severe cognitive disruptions, including loss of consciousness and motor functions, significantly impacting an individual's quality of life. Early recognition and treatment of hepatic encephalopathy are crucial for managing liver damage and maintaining cognitive health.
The appearance of small, spider-shaped arteries on the skin, known as spider angiomas, is a visible indicator of liver dysfunction. These vessels, which can spread out in a spiderlike pattern, are most commonly found on the torso and face. They result from hormonal imbalances caused by liver damage, leading to the dilation of small blood vessels. While not harmful in themselves, spider angiomas serve as a visual clue to the underlying liver issues and prompt individuals to seek medical evaluation and treatment.
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