The liver is undoubtedly one of the most important organs of the human body. Located in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, the liver is responsible for multiple functions including metabolic and synthetic functions. Therefore, it is essential to note all the signs of liver damage carefully to identify any occurrence immediately.
People have to be aware of the different signs of liver disease that may arise at any time. If you are able to identify the disease early then it is easier to control the disease.
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Why is Liver Important?
The importance of the liver is due to its following functions.
- Production of bile, which helps in breaking down and absorption of fat in the small intestine
- Synthesizing proteins such as albumin and factors for blood clotting
- Metabolism and storage of carbohydrates for use as glucose in the blood
- Regulation of blood clotting
- Elimination of bilirubin through metabolism or secretion
- Conversion of ammonia to urea in protein metabolism
- Fighting infections through the development of immune factors and removal of bacteria from the bloodstream
- Elimination of biochemical wastes, detoxification of alcohol, environmental toxins, and certain drugs
What are the Causes of Liver Damage?
Generally, liver disease is defined as any disturbance in the functioning of the liver that leads to illness. However, certain liver diseases are chronic in nature and build up over time, leading to liver failure in the advanced stages of the disease.
There are two types of liver injury one is – acute liver disease and the other is chronic liver disease.
In case of acute liver disease like in – Hepatitis A or E patient may feel unwell with malaise, fever and abdominal pain. Later patient may develop jaundice.
In chronic liver disease the damage is slow but progressive and there may not be any problem during early days. In the later stage patient will notice – weight loss, oedema feet, jaundice etc.
Warning Signs of Liver Damage
1. Itchy Skin
One of the common signs of liver disease is itchy skin. If you have itchy skin, then it could be a sign of obstructive jaundice. It can be caused by several pathology – stones in bile duct, cancer of bile duct or of head of pancreas, primary biliary cirrhosis.
There is usually no rash or skin lesions associated with itching caused by liver disease. Excessive scratching, on the other hand, can cause visible irritation, redness, and infection.
2. Spider Angiomas
If you can see small capillaries, shaped like spiders, under the skin on your face and legs, then you have to check for liver disease. This condition occurs due to higher levels of oestrogen, thereby implying the improper functioning of the liver in the metabolism of your hormones.
Spider angiomas are more common in people who have cirrhosis (liver disease) caused by alcohol than in people who do not have cirrhosis caused by alcohol.
3. Frequent Bruising and Bleeding
Easily bleeding or bruising after injuries is a clear sign of an unhealthy liver. This may occur due to the lack of specific proteins needed for clotting blood, thereby suggesting some issues with the liver.
Blood pools beneath the skin, causing bruises. Bruises can be black and blue, brownish or purple when they first appear. They fade and change colour.
4. Swelling of feet
In chronic liver disease, you may accumulate fluid in your legs.
This makes the legs swollen. Fluid can accumulate in the legs (edoema) due to increased pressure in the portal vein (ascites).
Edema and ascites can also be caused by the liver’s inability to produce enough blood proteins, such as albumin.
5. Swelling in the abdomen also called ascites
In chronic liver disease fluid may accumulate in the abdomen causing abdominal distension.
Fluid leaks from the surface of the liver and intestine cause ascites, a fluid buildup in the belly (abdominal) cavity. Ascites from liver disease are frequently associated with other symptoms of liver disease, such as portal hypertension. A swollen belly is one of the signs of ascites.
Causes of ascites may include:
- Liver cirrhosis, especially cirrhosis caused by alcoholism
- Alcoholic hepatitis
- Blocked hepatic vein
6. Vomiting of blood
In cirrhosis, if the liver patient may develop blood vomiting which needs emergency care.
The decline in health in chronic liver failure can be slow until a dramatic event occurs, such as vomiting blood or passing bloody stools.
Bleeding from varicose veins in the oesophagus and stomach is the most common cause of blood in the vomit or stool.
7. Sleep disturbance
Patients with liver cirrhosis frequently complain of sleep disturbances, particularly daytime sleepiness and insomnia.
Patients with liver cirrhosis are more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). When compared to the general population, patients with OSA have a four-fold higher prevalence of liver cirrhosis.
Due to the accumulation of toxins in the blood sleep cycle may get disturbed and some patients may go into a coma.
Being aware of the warning signs of liver damage can ensure timely treatment and best outcomes.
For consultation with the liver specialist doctor contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call/IMO/WhatsApp/Viber on +91- 9769516280.
Reviewed by Dr. Rakesh Rai. MS, FRCS, MD, CCT, ASTS Fellow (USA).
Senior Consultant HPB & transplant Surgeon.