Early symptoms of liver disease are typically vague or generalized. Vague symptoms can feel very much like the common cold or flu. Sometimes vague symptoms will appear gradually, so that an individual may find it difficult to notice how his or her energy-levels or health has changed. Symptoms of liver disease may be acute (occurring suddenly), or chronic (developing slowly over a longer period of time).
The liver is a remarkable organ that given the chance, has the ability to regenerate on its own. Although the liver can endure great strain, regeneration has its limits.Often times, symptoms of liver disease will not manifest until the progression of liver damage has reached a severe stage. If you are experiencing a lingering sense of feeling unwell or notice symptoms of liver disease, it is important to contact your doctor. Early detection of liver disease contributes greatly to the effectiveness of treatment.
Please note that while all of these symptoms are characteristic of a liver condition, the presence of one or more of these symptoms does not directly imply the presence of liver disease.
Select a symptom by letter or scroll down to browse.
Abdominal tenderness, abdominal discomfort, or abdominal pain:The liver is located in the top portion of the abdomen, primarily on the right side of the body. The liver itself does not create pain, rather pain is caused by over-crowding in the abdomen that occurs when the liver swells. This swelling can create tenderness, discomfort, or pain ranging from the sternum to the waist on the right side. Often abdominal discomfort caused by liver disease is reported as feeling dull rather than aching.
Anorexia: Anorexia (appetite loss), is characterized as the loss of desire to eat or not feeling hungry. Anorexia that occurs with liver dysfunction, can result from feeling nauseated, smoking cigarettes, alcohol or drug abuse, and malabsorption and nutritional deficiencies.
Ascites: Ascites is the excessive accumulation of fluid in the abdomen, caused by abnormal pressure in the vein-system around the liver, and a change in the regulation of blood flow caused by low levels of albumin in the bloodstream.
Black, tarry stool: Black tarry stool is caused by bleeding in the digestive tract. Relative to the liver, bleeding can be the result of ruptured varices or tumors. Contact your doctor immediately if you notice black, tarry, or bloody stools.
Bleeding easily: Due to a decrease in clotting factors, many individuals with liver disease notice that cuts and wounds take longer to stop bleeding.
Bleeding varices: Varicies (enlarged blood vessel), is usually found in the stomach or esophagus, and occur with portal hypertension. Bleeding varicies is a life threatening condition caused by the rupturing of a weak blood vessel due to high pressure. An individual with bleeding varices will also typically cough up blood or see blood in the stool.
Bruising easily: Bruising easily (unexplained bruises), resulting from the blood's inability to clot correctly in the presence of liver damage. These bruises may develop from pressure applied slightly.
Chills: Chills (shaking), is often associated with feeling cold, infection, and fever.
Coma: A state of unconsciousness in which a person cannot be awakened.
Confusion: Confusion is the inability to think as clearly or quickly as one normally does. Confusion may be related to hepatic encephalopathy in liver patients.
Dark urine: Dark urine associated with liver disease is consistently dark brown and clear, not cloudy. It is caused by the excretion of excess bilirubin in the urine. Normal urine is usually the color of straw. If dark urine lasts longer than one day, or comes and goes, please speak with your health care provider. Some food colorings, supplements, and dehydration can temporarily cause urine to appear darker.
Diarrhea: Diarrhea is having three or more loose or watery bowel movements in one day, possibly caused by a virus, bacteria, certain foods, and medications.
Difficulty concentrating : Difficulty concentrating is a feeling of not remembering things that have just occurred, the inability to focus on work or a task, and the inability to make decisions. Difficulty concentrating may be associated with hepatic encephalopathy in liver patients.
Disorientation: Disorientation is the feeling of confusion in one’s surroundings, or a loss of direction, and may be associated with hepatic encephalopathy in liver patients.
Early satiety: Early satiety is feeling full, or as though too much food was eaten, after eating only a very little amount of food.
Edema: Edema is swelling caused by excess fluid in the body’s tissues, and occurs frequently in the feet, the ankles, the legs, the arms and the hands, but can also effect the entire body.
Enlarged liver: An enlarged liver is a swollen liver that is larger than normal.
Excessive thirst and excessive urination: Please see Polyuria/Polydypsia
Exhaustion: Exhaustion is a feeling of excessive tiredness and fatigue.
Fatigue: Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of liver problems. Fatigue is an unexplained mental and/or physical feeling of tiredness, weakness, loss of motivation, or lack of energy that occurs even with adequate rest and self-care. Fatigue often goes unnoticed, possibly due to busy lifestyles, and its tendency to appear gradually rather than suddenly.
Fever: Fever is an elevation in body temperature greater than 100.4 F (38 C).
Fetor hepaticus: Fetor hepaticus, (sweet or musty smell to the breath), is caused by an accumulation of toxic substances in body fluids due to liver damage. Fetor hepaticus often occurs in individuals with hepatic encephalopathy and portal hypertension.
Headache: A headache is pain or discomfort ranging from mild to severe in the head. Individuals with liver dysfunction often report having headaches.
Hepatic encephalopathy: Hepatic encephalopathy occurs when high levels of toxins (usually ammonia), in the blood, causes mental confusion and difficulty concentrating. Hepatic encephalopathy is common in individuals with chronic (long term), liver disease, but may also occur in individuals with acute (sudden damage) liver disease. Hepatic encephalopathy can be a serious condition leading to coma or death. If you or someone you know is suddenly, severely confused, please seek immediate medical attention.
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar): Hypoglycemia is most commonly associated with diabetes, but can also be the result of poor liver function.
Intense itching: See Pruritis
Jaundice: Jaundice, or the yellowing of the skin and the eyes, is caused by the buildup of excess bilirubin in the bloodstream. Bilirubin is a chemical component of bile, which aids in digestion. Liver damage can prevent the removal of bilirubin from the bloodstream. Additionally, excess bilirubin can be caused by blockages in liver bile ducts. Jaundice can range from mild to severe. Mild jaundice may be virtually undetectable, whereas severe jaundice will create an intense yellow appearance of both the skin and the eyes. Often jaundice is the very first noticeable sign of a liver condition in children and adults. Infants are often born with jaundice.
Joint Pain: Discomfort or pain in any joint (the point where two or more bones meet), may be caused by liver disease.
Libido Loss: Libido loss (loss of the sex drive), is characterized as a decrease in the desire to have sex. The liver and hormones are linked, and liver disfunction can cause libido loss.
Malabsorption: Malabsorption is characterized by the inability for the digestive tract to digest vitamins, fats, sugars, or other components of food. Malabsorption can lead to anemia and malnutrition.
Malaise: Malaise is vague sense of feeling unwell.
Mental changes (abrubt): Please see Hepatic Encephalopathy
Muscle wasting, muscle atrophy: Muscle wasting is defined as the loss of muscle mass occurring as a result of not using a muscle, typically due to an injury such as a broken arm. In individuals with liver disease, muscle wasting occurs due to the liver's inability to process essential proteins in the body.
Musty or sweet breath: Please See Fetor Hepaticus
Nausea: Nausea is an upset stomach or the feeling of needing to vomit.
Pain in upper right quadrant of abdomen: Please See Abdominal Tenderness
Pale stool color: Pale stool is abnormally light in color, white, or similar to the color of grey clay, and can be caused by the lack of bile flow to the digestive tract. Pale stool color could indicate an infection in the liver due to inadequate bile production. Bile is what gives stool a "normal" brown color.
Polyuria/polydypsia: Polyuria/polydypsia (excessive thirst and excess urine production), can be caused by liver problems, as well as other conditions.
Portal hypertension: Portal hypertension is caused by increased blood pressure in the portal vein, usually caused by a build-up of scar tissue that blocks normal circulation through the liver.
Pruritus: Pruritus (itchy skin), can be a symptom of liver disease. Often pruritus occurs as the need to scratch all over the body, although the sensation can also occur exclusively on the palms and soles of feet. Itching is usually a manifestation of dermatologic (skin) disease or an increased amount of toxins in the body caused by liver disease.
Red palms, liver palms, palmer flush: A reddening of the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet caused by the accumulation of unprocessed chemicals in the bloodstream.
Spider angioma: Spider angioma (spider nevi, vascular spider), is an abnormal collection of blood- vessels near the surface of the skin, and is often seen on the face or trunk of the body. They occur often in people with liver disease, and in individuals with elevated estrogen levels, such as pregnant women.
Steatorrhea: Steatorrhea is excess fat in stool, and is often unusually foul-smelling, oily in appearance, and may float.
Varices: Varicies is an enlarged vein, usually in the esophagus (esophageal varices), or stomach (gastric varices), caused by a blockage of the portal vein, which causes blood to back up into other blood vessels.
Vomiting: The removal of the contents of the stomach through the mouth.
Vomiting blood: Vomiting blood often occurs due to the rupture of varices in the esophagus, or stomach in individuals with portal hypertension and cirrhosis. Vomiting blood is considered a medical emergency. If you or someone you know vomits blood, please seek immediate medical assistance.
Weakness: Please see Fatigue
Weight loss (unexplained): Weight loss in regard to liver disease is marked by losing weight without trying.