Early signs of liver disease can be hard to isolate. These symptoms overlap with some of the more common complaints you might experience. Yet, knowing these are a result of liver problems will allow you to seek timely medical attention, minimize damage to the organ, and see best results from the treatment. Train yourself to watch for these signs and you could prevent a bigger problem from flaring up.1
Frequent belly aches are an early sign of liver disease. This is usually a result of inflammation of the liver. Unlike other inflammation in the body which you might be able to see or feel as hotter to the touch, you do not have a way of directly touching or feeling the liver. Pain in the upper right section of the abdominal area gets stronger as the condition worsens.
Liver problems are often accompanied by a loss of appetite. Over time, this translates to weight loss. Impaired gastric accommodation and the diminished capacity of the stomach to expand to consume more food are to blame here.2 Cytokines and alcohol-induced anorexia are other common reasons for this loss of appetite.3
Fatigue Or Weakness
Energy levels dip and a feeling of constant tiredness creeps in if you have liver disease. This is because the neurotransmission in the brain tends to alter with liver disease. Unlike the tiredness you experience after overusing muscles, this is fatigue impacting the central nervous system. Look out for difficulty in doing not just physical but also, more often, mental activities. Things that typically need self-motivation or a response to an internal cue are impaired. The change in neurotransmission causes a perception of higher effort (than actually needed) when doing a job.4
Spidery Red Lines On Skin
A visible sign of liver disease is blood vessels that appear as fine red spider-like marks (called Spider Nevus Or Spider Angioma) on the skin. One study in particular pointed out the need to screen anyone who presents with spider nevi. Because it appears well before any other signs of liver disease, and screening here is cost-effective, this step can be a precursor to further blood tests that confirm diagnosis.5
Diarrhea, Nausea, Or Uneasiness
Nausea and weakness are common symptoms. Diarrhea is an outcome of liver problems, but it can also have other causes. So on its own, it may not be a definitive way to diagnose liver failure.
How Can You Tell It Is Liver Failure?
With multiple reasons for all of these symptoms, it can be hard to tell whether liver failure has brought on the problems. If you fulfill other conditions that point to liver disease, delve deeper into these symptoms when they crop up.6
Some people are more susceptible to liver problems.
- Heavy drinkers or those who have been drinking alcohol for a long time are more likely to develop alcohol-related liver disease .
- If you have not been vaccinated against Hepatitis and C, you may develop cirrhosis and liver failure from these infections. Autoimmune hepatitis also affects some individuals and harms the liver.
- Certain diseases like Wilson’s disease, alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, and hemochromatosis put you at risk of liver failure. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis can also bring on liver failure. Having primary biliary cirrhosis or primary sclerosing cholangitis also means your liver may experience issues.
What Your Doctor Will Check For
During a physical exam your doctor will also check for these tell-tale signs.
- Swollen abdomen filled with fluid
- Jaundiced skin or eyes (yellowish)
- Reddish palms
- Red spidery skin from visible blood vessels
- Small testicles in men
- Excess tissue on breast
- Enlarged liver
- Enlarged spleen
- Widened abdominal veins
In addition, a complete blood count, liver function test, coagulation study, and liver biopsy may also be suggested. Blood tests, CT scans of the abdomen, and ultrasounds can also help rule out other causes for your symptoms.7
|↑1||Alcohol-related liver disease – Symptoms, NHS UK.|
|↑2||Izbéki, F., I. Kiss, T. Wittmann, T. T. Varkonyi, P. Legrady, and J. Lonovics. “Impaired accommodation of proximal stomach in patients with alcoholic liver cirrhosis.” Scandinavian journal of gastroenterology 37, no. 12 (2002): 1403-1410.|
|↑3||Eleni T. Tsiaousi; Apostolos I. Hatzitolios; Sotirios K. Trygonis; Christos G. Savopoulos. “Malnutrition in End Stage Liver Disease: Recommendations and Nutritional Support”. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology,(2008) 23(4):527-533.|
|↑4||Swain, Mark G. “Fatigue in liver disease: pathophysiology and clinical management.” Canadian journal of gastroenterology 20, no. 3 (2006): 181.|
|↑5||Vedamurthy, Maya, and Amar Vedamurthy. “Spider nevi: A presenting feature of chronic liver disease.” Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology 74, no. 4 (2008): 397.|
|↑6||Symptoms of Liver Failure, American Liver Foundation.|
|↑7||Alcoholic liver disease. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|