The liver is the largest internal organ, and surprisingly powerful. Not only does it protect all your tissues from damage by filtering out toxins from your bloodstream, but it also can repair its own damaged tissue.
This means that, given the right time and care, liver tissue can be regenerate and your body’s filtration system can continue to function efficiently. However, some liver conditions leave permanent damage, and in these cases, early diagnosis and swift treatment can mean the difference between an uncomfortable (but treatable) illness and a life-threatening emergency.
Like many progressive diseases, you may not notice any signs or symptoms of liver disease in the early stages. As scarring continues and liver function begins to decline, you may begin to notice some physical changes in certain areas of your body, as well as more general discomfort from head to toe.
1. Abdominal Swelling
A swollen abdomen can point to a condition called ascites, where liver malfunction leads to an imbalance of proteins and other compounds, and fluid builds up in the tissues. The main symptom of ascites is a pronounced potbelly, and often signals cirrhosis. Sometimes swelling occurs in the hands, feet, and ankles, as gravity draws the excess fluid down to the extremities.
A damaged liver produces fewer of the proteins necessary for blood clotting, which means you may bleed and bruise more easily.
3. Fatigue and Weakness
It can be easy to dismiss fatigue and lethargy as a normal side effect of a stressful life, but severe exhaustion could point to low blood oxygen levels and waste accumulation.
4. Loss of Appetite
Nausea, a disinterest in food, and weight loss are some early symptoms of liver problems. In fact, the initial stages of hepatitis often bring flu-like symptoms, including digestive discomfort.
As liver damage progresses, more pronounced symptoms may appear. You may start to feel pain in certain areas, and you might see some startling changes in appearance.
As liver function declines and waste can no longer be eliminated from the body efficiently, the bile pigment called bilirubin can build up in the bloodstream. In turn, the skin and eyes can take on a yellowish color, urine will appear darker, and stools will appear lighter.
6. Abdominal Pain
When cirrhosis begins to cause pain, it typically comes in the upper right abdomen, or just under the lower right ribs. The pain can be throbbing or stabbing, and it may come and go. If the pain is so intense that you can’t sit still, you should seek immediate medical attention.
7. Personality Changes
Cognitive issues can develop when toxins accumulate in the blood and move to the brain. Confusion and problems with concentration are often the first signs of toxin overload, but they can lead to forgetfulness, changes in sleeping habits, and unresponsiveness.
8. Persistent Vomiting
While nausea and upset stomach are common early symptoms of liver disease, but as your liver’s ability to eliminate toxins decreases, your digestive distress will likely increase. Ongoing nausea is a reaction to excess waste products in the body, and unexplained vomiting is often linked to liver problems.
Spotting the symptoms of liver damage is early is vital for effective treatment, so if you suspect a problem with your liver, take your concerns to your doctor right away. There are several tests that can quickly and painlessly reveal the extent of your liver damage, and that will determine the right course of therapy. The sooner you can halt the progression of your liver disease, the more healthy tissue you can save, and the better your liver’s chances of regeneration.
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