Liver damage can happen for a number reasons, such as heredity, long-term disease, or toxicity. Over time the damage can become liver disease, also referred to as hepatic disease. Though the term is broad, it does mean that the liver is failing. In order for someone to be diagnosed with liver disease, about seventy-five percent of the liver’s tissue to be damaged or disrupted.
Since the liver is responsible for a number of functions, including bile production and secretion. Because of this, you do not want your liver to fail. Here are signs of liver damage to look out for.
Serious liver damage often causing swelling in the feet, ankles, and legs. The condition is also called edema. This happens when the impaired liver inhibits the production and circulation of certain proteins. In turn, circulatory issues occur within the lower extremities, because gravity will naturally pull fluid to the lowest parts of the body.
If you have liver-disease edema, you will notice that if you press down on the areas retaining fluid, the imprints of your fingers will remain for a few seconds longer than normal. Swelling in the legs, feet, and ankles can be worsened by decreased kidney efficiency, which is often secondary to impaired liver function. Sometimes, edema will spread into the abdomen as well.
Fortunately, most of this swelling can be treated with diuretics by triggering the need to urinate. If diuretics fail, more aggressive measures, such as surgically draining the fluid, may be required.
When your skin and the whites of the eyes take on a yellowish tint, known as jaundice, it means that you have a build-up of bilirubin, or bile pigment, in the blood. The bilirubin is not being excreted from the body. In severe cases of jaundice, brain functioning might cease.
The amount of yellow coloring will be determined by how much bile pigment gets trapped in the body. Ultimately, treating liver disease will help with jaundice. While a badly damaged liver may never fully regenerate, jaundice will decrease as the liver regains health and proper functioning. However, you must remember that even when the jaundice disappears, it doesn’t mean that the liver disease has been cured.
Feeling tired is normal in a fast-paced society. But if you continuously feel fatigued or are experiencing drowsiness, lethargy, and cannot get enough rest, you could have liver damage. In fact, it is common for those with liver disease to experience mental and muscle weakness, mental confusion, and even coma. The latter happens when liver disease progresses towards total liver failure.
Research has noted that fatigue and exhaustion is a common symptom of liver damage and is one of the symptoms that will impact daily life. Unfortunately, while this is known, research has yet to say why people get chronic fatigue. It is believed that there are changes in brain chemistry and hormones resulting from the damaged liver. This means that altered levels of noradrenaline, serotonin, and corticotropins encourage depleted energy levels.
Another thing that happens as a result of bilirubin build up in the body is dark urine. The other reason that liver damage can cause dark urine is the reddish pigment developed of red blood cell breakdown. Once the liver has become damaged, it can no longer properly remove bilirubin and other waste products from the body. This will cause a backup that can change the color of urine.
If you notice that your urine is darker than usual, be sure to rule out dehydration, gallstones, infections, high blood sugar, and other causes first. Note if you have other side effects that are present on this list.
Developing New Allergies or Vitamin Deficiencies
Allergies are immune responses to a specific substance. Most people do not realize that liver function is also responsible for allergies. When the liver is poorly functioning, you may experience new allergies, especially if you never had them before. Common allergens for those with damaged or diseased livers include dust, pet dander, peanuts, and various foods
Once the liver has been compromised, it will be unable to break down chemicals and dispose of waste. This leads to toxins in the bloodstream that overstimulate the immune system, leading to an immune response, such as an allergic reaction to something you might have been fine with consuming or smelling before. Individuals who have preexisting allergies will find that they become much more severe once the liver has been damaged.
Vitamin deficiencies occur much for the same reason allergens occur. The liver cannot assist with metabolism or breakdown of nutrients, and so vitamins that need to be absorb are not. Your doctor may suggest changing your diet to assist with proper nutrition.
Jaundice can also affect the quality of your stool. Some people will find that their stool because pale or chalky. This happens when the biliary system within the liver becomes damaged. Bile salts, which usually give excrement its brown coloring, cannot be properly excreted, and so the color and consistency of waste will change.
Patients also report a tar-like consistency and coloring. This happens when blood isn’t flowing correctly through the liver and can cause hypertension in the liver’s veins. If you spot blood in your stool, get medical attention immediately. Bloody stool is often a sign of end stage cirrhosis of the liver
Abdominal Pain and Swelling
Liver damage and disease will inevitably cause some kind of pain. Most patients mention a dull throbbing in the right upper abdomen. Some describe it as stabbing pain. This could be attributed to personal pain tolerance. There are also cases where the pain is accompanied by swelling and pain that radiates throughout the back, particularly by the shoulder blades.
Abdominal swelling occurs when fluid builds up within the abdominal cavity. Fluid often enters the abdominal cavity from the liver and intestines when the liver is dysfunctional. Signs of swelling in the abdomen include shortness of breath, discomfort, distension, and pain.
Commonly, those with Reye’s syndrome, cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis, liver cancer, hemochromatosis, or obstruction of the hepatic vein will develop abdominal pain and swelling.
A damaged liver will not be able to produce enough proteins to assist with blood clotting. Because of this, individuals who have liver damage or liver disease will find that even the slightest bump can cause terrible bruising. Some people will even bleed much more easily.
Easy bruising can also be caused by blood conditions, which people with damaged or diseased livers usually develop alongside their failing liver. If you notice that you are covered in bruises and don’t understand how they got there, you may want to make an appointment with a doctor as soon as you can.
Vomiting and Nausea
Nausea is most often associated with fatty liver disease, a condition that develops when the liver is inflamed because of metabolic stress, often from metabolic syndrome. With the growing prevalence of diabetes, it is estimated that as many as 60 million Americans are suffering from some form of fatty liver disease and could be experiencing nausea because of it.
Fatty liver disease will lead to scarring and liver failure over time. Once there is enough scarring, blood flow will be prevented, and that increases the likelihood of pressure in the stomach. Once there is enough pressure, the individual may feel persistent nausea or even vomiting. Liver damage can even lead to a loss of appetite, so you may have to change your diet and focus on drinking more liquids or supplements to prevent malnourishment.
Portal hypertension is unique to the liver and happens when there is high blood pressure within the portal vein, which sends blood from the intestine and spleen into the liver. Portal hypertension is dangerous, because it will increase the pressure of the blood vessels, creating resistance.
Collaterals, or new blood vessels, are also grown because of this. The new blood vessels will stem from the intestine and bypass the liver, meaning that substances from the liver cannot be swept up and sent into the circulatory system. Patients with portal hypertension usually also show signs of varicose veins, fluid retention and abdominal swelling.
Similar to collaterals formed from portal hypertension are esophageal varices, or blood vessels that have dilated within the walls of the lower section of the esophagus. However, unlike collaterals, varices will bleed endlessly. This symptom usually only happens with those who have extensive damage to the liver or who are in the advanced stages of liver disease.
Varices are also affected by high blood pressure and will dilate overtime, become inflamed and very painful, and will rupture. Symptoms of burst varices include excessive thirst, dark or bloody stool, anemia, pale complexion, lightheadedness, and decreased urination.
Muscle Loss and Shrunken Testicles In Men
Although the liver does not produce male hormones, the organ plays an essential role in regulating hormones. In fact, the liver is the one organ that can break down excess hormones as well as balance out sodium and potassium, sex hormones, water, and keep the immune system in check. When hormones cannot be broken down and exposed of properly, significant hormonal imbalances can occur.
The imbalance of hormones is particularly severe for men, because it can affect muscle mass, impact sexual drive and performance, and even cause the testicles to shrink. Chronic alcoholism is also known to lead to testicular atrophy for the same reasons.
Memory Loss and Difficulty Concentrating
The liver is usually associated with metabolic processes, such as processing alcohol or secreting proteins and bile, but once the liver is damaged, it could also negatively impact your memory and ability to concentrate. This is due to the build up of harmful toxins within the body. Since the liver is required to remove waste products from the body, much like the kidneys, when it fails, the toxins will travel throughout the body, all the way to the brain.
The technical term for this is called liver (or hepatic) encephalopathy, and it can happen over time or rapidly, depending on the degradation of the liver. Whenever the brain is exposed to toxins, damage can occur. The longer the exposure contains, the more permanent and severe the damage will be. Some people who have developed hepatic encephalopathy may fall into a coma.
Itchy Skin and Dark Circles Under The Eyes
Do you have itchiness that doesn’t go away? What about a flaky, scaly rash? Any skin irritation is often the result of lacking fluid flow and toxins remaining in the body. This is manifested as patches of skin that itchy, change color (usually darkening or lightening) in localized sections, and also jaundice.
This is oftentimes paired with dark circles under the eyes. People might think that the itching and dark circles are caused by allergies, which may be true. Keep in mind that worsening liver damage can result in allergic reactions.
Diagnosing Liver Damage
A malfunctioning liver can be devastating. Whenever you show signs of liver disease, or even just one that has been chronic, you should see a doctor immediately. After all, many people who have liver damage never know until their liver becomes diseased. Do not wait until that happens.
Discovering liver damage is critical to recovery. The faster the issue can be diagnosed, the faster it can be treated. Diagnosis usually happens one of three ways. The first method is a blood test, called liver function tests, which test various chemical levels in the body to determine how healthy the liver is. Other blood tests can then be done to pinpoint specific problems with the organ or any genetic disorders.
Imaging tests, such as MRIs, CT scans, and ultrasounds, can also be done to find visible damage or deformities on the liver. Lastly, there is a tissue analysis. This is conducted much like a biopsy, where some of the tissue of the liver is retrieved. The tissue is sent a laboratory then examined under a microscope for damages. A liver biopsy is performed by inserting a long, thin needle through the abdomen and into the liver.