Liver Disease (cont.)
Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
In this Article
- Liver Disease Facts
- What is liver disease?
- What are the causes of liver disease?
- What are the risk factors for liver disease?
- What are the symptoms of liver disease?
- When to seek medical care for liver disease
- How is liver disease diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for liver disease?
- What are the complications of liver disease?
- Can liver disease be prevented?
- What is the outlook (prognosis) for a person with liver disease?
- Liver Disease FAQs
- Find a local Gastroenterologist in your town
What are the symptoms of liver disease?
Classic symptoms of liver disease include:
- right upper quadrant abdominal pain, and
- jaundice (a yellow discoloration of the skin due to elevated bilirubin concentrations in the bloodstream).
Fatigue, weakness and weight loss may also be occur.
However, since there are a variety of liver diseases, the symptoms tend to be specific for that illness until late-stage liver disease and liver failure occurs.
Examples of liver disease symptoms due to certain conditions or diseases include:
- A person with gallstones may experience right upper abdominal pain and vomiting after eating a greasy (fatty) meal. If the gallbladder becomes infected, fever may occur.
- Gilbert's disease has no symptoms, and in an incidental finding on a blood test where the bilirubin level is mildly elevated.
- Individuals with cirrhosis will develop progressive symptoms as the liver fails.
Some symptoms are directly related to the inability of the liver to metabolize
the body's waste products. Others reflect the failure of the liver to
manufacture proteins required for body function and may affect blood clotting
function, secondary sex characteristics and brain function. Symptoms of
cirrhosis of the liver include:
- easy bruising may occur due to decreased production of clotting factors;
- bile salts can deposit in the skin causing itching;
- gynecomastia or enlarged breasts in men may occur because of an imbalance in sex hormones; specifically an increase in estradiol;
- impotence (erectile dysfunction, ED), poor sex drive and shrinking testicles are due to decrease in function of sex hormones;
- confusion and lethargy may occur if ammonia levels rise in the blood stream (ammonia is a waste product formed from protein metabolism and requires normal liver cells to remove it), ascites (fluid accumulation within the abdominal cavity) occurs because of decreased protein production; and
- muscle wasting may occur because of reduced protein production.
Additionally, there is increased pressure within the cirrhotic liver affecting blood flow through the liver. Increased pressure in the portal vein causes blood flow to the liver to slow down and blood vessels to swell. Swollen veins (varices) form around the stomach and esophagus and are at risk for bleeding.
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