What Are Signs That Your Liver Is Not Functioning Properly?

Reviewed on 2/17/2021

What is the liver?

The liver is an organ that filters the blood and performs other important functions in the body. Signs that your liver is not functioning properly include fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice and other symptoms and signs.
The liver is an organ that filters the blood and performs other important functions in the body. Signs that your liver is not functioning properly include fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice and other symptoms and signs.

The liver is a reddish-brown, cone-shaped organ found in the upper right portion of your abdominal cavity. A healthy liver typically weighs around three pounds. It’s capable of holding approximately 13% of your body’s blood supply at different times. If you find yourself experiencing liver pain, it could be a sign of a more serious medical condition

What is liver function?

The liver performs a variety of essential functions for the body, including: 

A properly functioning liver can heal itself when damaged. If you are experiencing liver pain, you may be dealing with an issue that could permanently harm your liver and put your life at risk. 

Signs and symptoms of malfunctioning liver

Liver pain in your upper abdomen is one of the first signs of a potentially serious problem. The following risk factors may increase your chances of ending up with liver disease.

  • Toxin exposure — Some household chemicals can pass into your bloodstream and harm your liver. Toxins can also come from pesticides used on foods you eat or compounds in your work environment
  • Supplements — Various herbs and supplements can end up causing problems for your liver. 
  • Alcohol consumption — Drinking too much alcohol can cause your liver to swell, resulting in scarring and damage that may be permanent. 
  • Other health problems that can lead to potential liver issues include carrying excess weight, diabetes, or high cholesterol levels. You may be more prone to liver problems if there is a family history of liver disease

Causes of liver pain

There are several types of liver disease whose symptoms include liver pain. 


Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver often caused by an infection or injury. Several different viruses can cause viral hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. Hepatitis B, C, and D can spread through blood contact only, while B and C can also spread through other body fluids. 

You can also contract hepatitis from heavy drinking or consuming something toxic. Some people also end up with autoimmune hepatitis, where the body’s immune system starts attacking their liver. Common symptoms of hepatitis include:


Liver cirrhosis is a medical condition where the liver ends up with scarring and permanent damage. This results in the scar tissue overtaking healthy liver tissue. Because the scar tissue blocks normal blood flow, the liver may no longer be capable of performing routine functions like processing nutrients and producing vital proteins. Ongoing liver cirrhosis can lead to liver failure

Liver cancer

Primary liver cancer is a form of cancer that starts in the liver. Several types of liver cancer can produce symptoms like liver pain. 

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) — HCC is a common form of liver cancer found in adults. It can start as a tumor found on the liver that continues to grow. Other forms of HCC may produce small nodules in various places around the liver. This type of liver cancer is often found in people with advanced cirrhosis. 
  • Bile duct cancer — This form of liver cancer starts forming in the cells of the bile ducts found in and outside of the liver. 
  • Angiosarcoma — Angiosarcoma is a rare form of liver cancer that forms in the inside lining of blood and lymph vessels of various organs, including the liver.
  • Hepatoblastoma — Hepatoblastoma is a rare form of liver cancer that can develop in children, often four years and younger. 
  • There is also metastatic liver cancer, which spreads to the liver from cancer initially found elsewhere in the body. 

Diagnosis for liver pain

You should make an appointment with your doctor to determine the source of any persistent liver pain. They will likely perform a full examination. They may also order additional diagnostic tests to get a clearer picture of your current condition, including:

Treatments for liver pain

Treatment for liver pain will vary depending on its cause. For example, if excessive drinking causes liver damage that leads to cirrhosis, your doctor will likely recommend that you give up alcohol. Liver pain may also be alleviated by losing weight or proper management of diabetes. If diagnosed with liver cancer, your treatment may consist of chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery to deal with cancerous cells. 


Hepatitis C, Hep B, Hep A: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment See Slideshow

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American Cancer Society: "Treatment of Liver Cancer, by Stage."

American Cancer Society: "What is Liver Cancer?"

Cedars Sinai: "Hepatitis A."

Clinical Liver Disease: "Imaging of Abnormal Liver Function Tests."

Harvard Health: "Fatty liver disease: What it is and what to do about it."

John Hopkins Medicine: "Liver: Anatomy and Functions."

John Hopkins Medicine: "5 Reasons You May Be at Risk for Liver Disease."

National Health Service: "Alcohol-related liver disease."

National Health Service: "Cirrhosis."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Health Information Center: "What Is Viral Hepatitis?"

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