Liver damage may cause no symptoms in the early stages. The first signs may be nonspecific, such as nausea or fatigue. Later stages can cause symptoms to worsen, such as jaundice, itchy skin, and swelling in the lower limbs. Liver damage has many potential causes, including viruses, obesity, and alcohol abuse.
Over time, the damage leads to a buildup of scar tissue on the liver, known as cirrhosis. When this happens, scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue, leading to symptoms and eventually liver failure. A person may have no initial symptoms. As the damage progresses, a person may begin to notice nonspecific symptoms that may gradually get worse.
This article reviews the early and late symptoms of liver damage, their causes, treatment, and prevention.
Liver damage has a variety of potential causes, including alcohol consumption and viral infections. At first, these conditions may cause no symptoms. As the damage worsens, a person may begin to notice new symptoms developing.
Early signs of liver damage and scarring may include:
loss of appetite
discomfort or mild pain in the upper right part of the abdomen
unexplained weight loss
A person may not have all of these symptoms.
These are also non-specific symptoms, which means they can be due to several potential causes other than liver damage.
As liver damage and scarring progresses, symptoms may worsen.
They may include:
a yellowish tint to the eyes or skin: jaundice
easy bleeding or bruising
severe itching of the skin
swelling of the legs, ankles or feet (oedema)
trouble thinking, confusion, memory loss, personality changes, or trouble sleeping
an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen – ascites
dark colored urine
Learn more about the symptoms and diagnosis of liver disease
Liver damage can be due to different causes. They may include:
viral infections, such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C
diseases that block or damage the bile ducts
long-term use of certain medications
chronic heart failure
genetic liver diseases, such as Wilson’s disease
These conditions can cause liver damage and scar tissue, known as cirrhosis. When a person has cirrhosis, their liver does not heal and scar tissue begins to replace healthy tissue.
This can lead to complications, such as
portal hypertension, where scar tissue partially blocks and slows blood flow to the liver
Learn more about cirrhosis.
Treatment for cirrhosis usually focuses on correcting the underlying condition. In some cases, a medical professional may be able to cure the underlying condition.
However, apart from a liver transplant, there is no treatment for cirrhosis. Treating the underlying causes can help prevent further damage and possibly help the person avoid liver failure.
Treatments for the underlying causes often involve the use of medications and other therapies. Therapies for specific conditions may include:
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: Weight loss through diet and exercise.
Chronic hepatitis B: Treatment includes antiviral drugs.
Chronic hepatitis C: Approved drugs that treat hepatitis C.
Alcoholic liver disease: Stopping alcohol consumption and attending alcoholic support groups.
Autoimmune hepatitis: Use of drugs to help suppress the immune system.
Long-term use of certain drugs: Stop or replace the drug causing the lesions.
Bile duct diseases: Drugs or surgery (to further open the bile ducts).
Inherited liver diseases: These treatments may vary depending on the disease.
A person should work with a doctor or healthcare team to determine the best treatment options for them.
It is not always possible to prevent all causes of liver damage, but steps can be taken to reduce the risk and prevent cirrhosis from getting worse.
Here are some tips to help prevent liver damage:
limit alcohol consumption
discuss dietary supplements with a healthcare professional before taking them
avoid illegal drugs
discuss medications with a healthcare professional before taking them, whether prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications
take medication as directed
avoiding raw or undercooked shellfish, fish and meat
get tested for hepatitis C
maintain a moderate body weight
have a balanced diet
get vaccinated against
pneumonia caused by certain bacteria
When to contact a doctor
People should see a healthcare professional if they have symptoms that last longer than a few days and could indicate liver damage. People with cirrhosis who need to switch medications or who are considering taking over-the-counter medications or dietary supplements should also consult with a healthcare professional. This can give advice on the safety of taking medications and dietary supplements in case of cirrhosis.
Liver diseases that cause damage often have no obvious signs or symptoms until the liver is damaged. At first, symptoms may be mild and include weight loss, fatigue, or nausea. As the lesions progress, the person’s symptoms also begin to worsen. She may develop jaundice, bruise easily, and develop swelling in the lower extremities. Treatment usually focuses on correcting the underlying condition.
In some cases, treatment can cure the condition. In others, it may help slow the progression of liver damage. You can help prevent liver damage by maintaining a moderate weight, limiting alcohol intake and treating underlying conditions, such as hepatitis C.