Signs and Symptoms that Might Indicate Liver Disease

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About the Liver

The liver is a large organ located on the right side of the abdomen, beneath the rib cage. This organ is essential for several bodily processes, including food digestion, nutrient absorption, and removal of toxins from the body.

The liver filters and removes toxins from the blood, metabolizes medications, stored several types of vitamins and minerals, makes a fat-digesting substance called bile, synthesizes and processes fatty acids and proteins, and breaks down red blood cells for recycling.

Types of Liver Disease

Many different disease can affect the liver, including cancers, autoimmune diseases, and viral infections. Each disease causes a different pattern of symptoms, which includes one or more of the classic signs and symptoms of liver disease as listed above.

  • Congenital functional or structural defects
  • Infectious diseases, including hepatitis types A, B, C, D, and E, as well as certain parasites
  • Long-term alcohol abuse
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Cancer
  • Abnormal benign growths such as nodules, cysts or hemangiomas
  • Thrombosis of the portal vein of the liver
  • Drug or toxin-induced hepatitis
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Injury

Liver Disease Signs and Symptoms

Inflammation or infection of the liver affects the organ’s ability to carry out all of the above tasks, leading to a wide range of symptoms. Diseases that affect liver function often cause similar types of signs and symptoms, typically including several of the following:

  • Chronically itchy skin
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained loss or gain of weight
  • Pain and swelling of the abdomen, particularly on the right side
  • Yellowish-colored skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Dark urine and/or pale stools
  • Blood in stools
  • Reduced libido
  • Depression

Cirrhosis of the Liver

A large number of chronic liver diseases culminate in cirrhosis, a condition which results from liver damage that is almost always irreversible. Some of the most common causes of liver disease that can lead to cirrhosis are hepatitis C, alcoholic liver disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, hepatitis B, and hepatitis D.

Liver damage that leads to cirrhosis is called fibrosis. This is caused by the abnormal deposition of collagens and proteins within the liver, which occurs as a response to injury. As more and more collagen and protein is deposited, the liver loses the ability to function normally.

Liver disease progresses to cirrhosis at a highly variable rate: it may take only weeks for the damage to occur, or it may develop very slowly over many years. Rapid progression is often associated with massive, sudden liver toxicity such as that sustained as the result of a drug overdose; in contrast, slow progression is associated with chronic diseases such as hepatitis and alcoholism.


David C Wolf, MD for eMedicine: Cirrhosis

Gagan K Sood, MD for eMedicine: Acute Liver Failure

The Mayo Clinic: Liver Problems

University of Illinois Medical Center Health Library: Liver Disease