What is the largest internal organ and gland in the body? If you guessed the liver, top marks! In an adult, it can be as large as a football. It has 500 important functions, but three of the most notable ones are producing bile to help with digestion, cleansing toxins from the blood supply, and storing glucose when needed for energy. When something in these areas goes wrong, you may be suffering from a disease of the liver. Here are 10 warning signs to look out for. Of course, always see your doctor if you suspect you may have liver disease. This post is not a substitute for medical advice.
1. You may have hepatitis.
There are five main types of hepatitis which are caused by viruses attacking the liver. The three most important ones are hepatitis A, B, and C. You can get hepatitis A by eating infected food or water. Hepatitis B is usually spread through sexual contact with an infected person, but you could also contract it from an unsterilized needle. Hepatitis C is caught by being in direct contact with the blood of an infected person.
Early signs of hepatitis may be mild flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, poor appetite, vomiting, and weight loss. As symptoms worsen, there may be dizziness, circulation problems, and dark urine. Treatment of hepatitis A and B consists mainly of rest with a high protein and carbohydrate diet. Interferon is sometimes prescribed for patients with the B and C variants. As the liver is inflamed, the treatment is aimed to give it a chance to recover and start functioning again.
2. Your liver may be affected by alcohol misuse.
The medical term for this is ARLD (Alcohol related liver disease). The problem with this condition is that it remains hidden as there are no obvious signs or symptoms in the early stages. Of course, if you consume a lot of alcohol, you need to have regular check ups to see how your liver is coping with it. These blood tests are useful because they will reveal enzymes which are present when the liver is damaged. In the later stages of this disease, symptoms such as confusion, drowsiness, and vomiting blood may be indications that ARLD is present.
3. You may have fatty liver disease.
This disease has nothing to do with too much alcohol. Its medical term is NAFLD (Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease). It may indicate an unhealthy diet as there is too much fat in the liver. A normal liver has almost no fat at all. This is very common in the UK, where calculations estimate that it affects up to 30% of the population, at least in the disease’s early stages. Left untreated, this can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, heart attack, or a stroke. Early signs may be discomfort and pain under the ribs, but sometimes symptoms are not obvious. Treatment is usually as simple as getting enough sleep, as research shows that irregular or lack of sleep plays havoc on liver function. Lifestyle changes regarding diet and exercise are also essential.
4. You may have nausea and loss of appetite.
You may feel nauseous after a meal and you may also lose your appetite. These may be symptoms of other conditions, but when the liver is involved, the problem is with the production of bile. This bile helps to emulsify (or break down) fats so that they can be digested. When the liver is malfunctioning, a feeling of nausea is one of the warning signs.
5. You may feel extremely tired.
Feeling tired and exhausted are usually signs that a liver problem may be present. When it is not healthy, the liver cannot detoxify the blood efficiently. One of the methods used by doctors to assess whether this fatigue is due to liver disease is the Fatigue Impact Scale. This assesses how fatigue impacts physical and mental activities and is often used to measure progress after treatment starts.
6. You may feel confused and disorientated.
As stated above, one of the most important functions of the liver is to remove toxins from the blood. For example, when we take medicine, the liver may filter them in order to make them harmless. Additionally, when we eat protein, ammonia is produced, which is rendered harmless by the liver. However, when the liver does not function properly, these toxins build up; they may even cause problems in the brain. This condition is also known as hepatic encephalopathy. The sufferer may be confused and feel disorientated.
7. You may have liver fibrosis.
This disease occurs when you have hepatitis C or as a consequence of ARLD in an advanced state. The problem here is that the liver functions so badly that fibroids form, producing scarring. The legs and feet swell due to retention of liquid. Itchy hands and feet are also symptoms, together with easy bruising. The liver becomes very tender to touch.
8. You may have liver cysts.
Fortunately, this is not normally a serious condition. The problem arises when the diseased liver produces fluid-filled cavities, such as cysts. There are no warning signs until the cysts become large and can cause pain and discomfort. Very often, they only come to light when doing other medical tests.
9. You may have jaundice.
A classic warning sign that a liver disease is present is yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. This happens when a certain type of bile (bilirubin) that is normally removed by the liver is allowed to build up, coloring the skin.
10. You may have darker urine.
Darker urine may be a result of medication or a shortage of fluid intake. But when the color is much darker than usual and you have white stool, this may be an indicator that liver disease is present. In this case, it will be important to seek urgent medical attention, as it may indicate that liver function has been severely compromised.
How to keep your liver in great shape.
Diet, exercise and adequate sleep are the three keys to a healthy liver. We can avoid excesses of toxic food such as alcohol, coffee, and too many refined grains. A glass of lemon water can help flush out toxins and make less work for your liver. Also, ramping up on dark greens like broccoli and spinach, together with walnuts, avocado, berries, and plenty of water is very beneficial.
Let us know in the comments how you manage to keep your liver healthy.
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