Located beneath the rib cage on the right side of the abdomen, the liver serves as a crucial organ responsible for filtering blood from the gastrointestinal tract, aiding in the metabolism of food, medications, and chemicals, eliminating toxins and waste products, and synthesizing essential proteins. Impressively, this organ is able to compensate when damaged. However, if chronic liver damage is left untreated, it can eventually lead to liver failure. Common causes of liver damage include excessive alcohol consumption, certain medications, viral infections, and autoimmune or genetic conditions.
Signs of Liver Damage: Altered Appetite Patterns
A damaged liver struggles to metabolize fats and proteins found in food, potentially leading to a slowdown in bile production and difficulty processing fatty meals. If liver damage becomes chronic or severe, blood vessels in the esophagus and stomach may dilate, sometimes leading to bleeding – a medical emergency. Individuals with chronic liver damage may also experience symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and a distaste for meals high in fat and protein.
Liver damage can lead to hormonal imbalances, which, in turn, can cause the expansion of small blood vessels, resulting in spider veins. These veins are particularly noticeable on the face and torso. Additionally, blotchy redness on the facial skin, palms, and feet is also common, typically stemming from hormonal changes, vitamin deficiencies, or heightened pressure within the vascular system. In more severe cases of liver damage, jaundice can cause the skin to appear yellow. This occurs when a waste product called bilirubin accumulates instead of being metabolized by the liver. Persistently high bilirubin levels may indicate acute or advanced liver disease; however, it’s important to note that elevated bilirubin can also be a symptom of other medical conditions.
Persistent Fatigue and Trouble Focusing
When the liver is damaged, it has to work overtime to carry out its numerous functions, which can result in fatigue or difficulty concentrating due to the slower detoxification process. A sluggish liver may also have trouble metabolizing food and absorbing the essential nutrients needed to maintain mental clarity and overall functionality. In more severe cases, advanced liver disease can lead to hepatic encephalopathy – a form of brain damage caused by the accumulation of high levels of toxins in the body.
Although a damaged liver has the ability to compensate or regenerate, its shape and size may still undergo changes. These alterations can result in an enlarged liver, which can consequently increase the size of the abdomen. Advanced liver disease or cirrhosis can also cause swelling within the abdominal cavity, known as ascites. This swelling occurs due to a decrease in proteins in the blood, leading to fluid leaving the vessels and accumulating in the abdomen and other body cavities. Additionally, ascites can be caused by increased pressure in the vein responsible for carrying blood from the digestive organs to the liver.
Shifts in Bowel Habits
When the liver has difficulty functioning, digestion can be negatively impacted, and the body may attempt to eliminate excess toxins through the bowels. This can lead to constipation or diarrhea. In more advanced stages of liver damage, the liver may be unable to produce and process bile and bilirubin, which are responsible for giving stool its brown color. Consequently, the stool may appear paler than usual.
Variations in Urine
When the liver struggles to process and eliminate bilirubin, a waste material, it can accumulate in the blood. This build-up is then expelled by the kidneys, often resulting in dark or tea-colored urine. If you notice a change in your urine color to a darker shade, it could indicate a more severe liver problem that requires urgent medical attention. Stay vigilant and prioritize your health by seeking prompt care if you experience this symptom.
Unusual Bruising or Bleeding
The liver plays a crucial role in producing proteins that aid in blood clotting. When the liver is damaged, it struggles to carry out this process, resulting in increased bruising or bleeding. Complications can arise when new blood vessels are formed to circumvent the impaired organ. These vessels, typically developing in the esophagus and stomach, start to expand and are susceptible to rupture, causing severe bleeding – a risk that is exacerbated if blood clotting factors are compromised. If you experience vomiting blood or notice black stool, these could be indicators of bleeding in the esophagus or stomach and warrant immediate medical attention.
Puffiness in Legs or Ankles
Liver damage can lead to fluid accumulation in the ankles and legs, often caused by a loss of blood protein that allows fluid to leak into the tissues. The legs and ankles are particularly susceptible to this build-up due to gravity pulling the fluid downward. In the later stages of liver damage, this swelling can become severe, significantly impacting the individual’s quality of life.
Elevated Blood Pressure
When the liver is damaged, blood flow becomes restricted due to scarring and tissue damage. This increased pressure in the blood vessels surrounding the liver results in a condition called portal hypertension. As the body tries to compensate for this compromised blood flow, it forms new blood vessels to bypass the resistance. However, these newly-formed vessels can sometimes bleed or rupture, leading to a critical medical emergency.
Heightened Liver Enzyme Levels
Active liver damage can be indicated by increased liver enzymes in the blood, although not all individuals with chronic liver conditions will display this sign. Elevated liver enzymes typically result from acute damage and can signal that the organ is being attacked by toxins, inflammation, viruses, or other factors. When these heightened liver enzymes are detected, doctors may investigate to identify the cause and take appropriate measures to prevent further harm to the liver.