The liver, about the size of a football, is the body’s largest internal organ. It sits on the right side of your body just under your rib cage and acts as a filtration device, removing harmful substances from the blood. The liver also makes bile to help digest food and stores sugar that the body uses for energy.
Unfortunately, liver disease often goes undetected until significant damage is done. The good news is, with a well-managed treatment plan, damage from liver disease can often be reversed.
Here are some of the most common signs that you may be developing liver problems.
- A general unwell feeling. An underperforming liver can’t filter toxins out of the bloodstream, resulting in fatigue, headaches and skin problems.
- Jaundice or yellowing of the skin and eyes
- Frequent gassy sensation. When a damaged liver doesn’t secrete digestive juices to break down food, you may experience routine bloating and stool pressure.
- Confusion. When the liver isn’t working properly, toxins can build up, causing brain fog. This is called hepatic encephalopathy. You may also be confused and disoriented.
- Fluid retention: A weak liver can result in swelling due to fluid retention, especially of the feet and ankles
- Dark urine: Urine that is darker than usual, accompanied by white stool
- Loss of appetite and sudden weight loss
- Vomiting blood
- Loss of muscle and muscle weakness
The main causes of liver disease include viruses like hepatitis, alcohol use disorder and fatty liver disease. Despite the great strides in curing hepatitis, liver disease is more prevalent than ever.
Excess alcohol consumption can lead to liver disease, including fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis and eventually liver cancer. Cirrhosis is a common cause of end-stage liver disease. Often, a liver transplant is needed when cirrhosis progresses to the point that scar tissue replaces healthy tissue and the liver stops functioning. While alcoholic liver disease typically follows years of heavy drinking, binge drinking can result in rapid progression of liver disease.
The other contributing factor to the rise in liver disease is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
“It’s because of our lifestyle,” said Themis Kourkoumpetis, a transplant hepatologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center – Fort Worth. “We aren’t getting enough exercise, we’re drinking too much soda and we’re eating a large amount of fast food. A growing portion of our population has diabetes, high cholesterol or obesity.”
But the good news about this type of liver disease is that is 100% reversible, according to Dr. Kourkoumpetis.
“And so is alcoholic liver disease, which is the third leading cause of preventable death in the US,” he said.
By making healthy food choices, exercising and avoiding alcohol, damage done to the liver can be reversed. But without those lifestyle changes, 1 in 10 liver patients will go on to develop cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure and may need a liver transplant.
You can’t live without a working liver. Our hepatologists are here to help get your liver back in shape.
“I want to inspire my patients to be proactive,” Dr. Kourkoumpetis said. “If they make good choices, the benefits to their liver can last for decades.”
About the author
Themistoklis Kourkoumpetis MD, MPH, is a transplant hepatology physician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center – Fort Worth. He specializes in the care of patients before and after liver transplantation, and focuses on the treatment of liver conditions such as cirrhosis, fatty liver and alcohol-related liver disease.