The liver is one of the largest and hardest working organs in the body. It converts the nutrients in the food we eat into substances the body can use and stores them, and releases them when the cells require. It also detoxifies the blood, and plays a role in producing proteins even enabling blood to clot after an injury. The liver does a whole lot, so it’s important to keep this workhorse of an organ healthy and working properly. However, there are things we do that can damage our livers.
Read these 14 early warning signs of liver damage. If caught early enough, a plan of action can be implemented to prevent further damage.
A failing liver cannot process enough of the pigment, bilirubin, the waste product after old red blood cells break down. The result is jaundice, the yellowing of the skin, nails and eyes. The unprocessed bilirubin, or a clogged bile duct due to liver disease, causes the bilirubin to accumulate in the bloodstream. It winds up in the skin and eyes, causing the yellow discoloration. If you see yellow, call your doctor.
Itching could be a symptom of cirrhosis, the formation of scar tissue (fibrosis) in the liver. Cirrhosis can develop unnoticed until there is liver failure. Or there can be symptoms. Itching, also called pruritis, is one symptom. The itch can be debilitating with the entire skin suffering intensely for no apparent reason. Scratching might just exacerbate the itch which is caused by accumulation of bile acids in the bloodstream. If you experience an itch that covers your body or a localized itch that lasts for days, call your doctor.
3. Bruising Easily
Bruising or bleeding easily, especially nosebleeds, is another symptom of cirrhosis — a liver that has scar tissue that affects the way the liver works. What’s happening is the damaged liver cannot produce enough of the proteins needed to clot the blood after an injury. Bruising easily and bleeding come as a result.
4. Hormone Imbalance
Men, if you start to develop breasts, this might not be a cause for embarrassment but instead a cause for alarm. A liver that is damaged might not be able to regulate the production and breakdown of hormones. For women, this may affect your menstrual cycle. For men, shrunken testicles and enlarged breasts should alert you to possible liver damage. Call your doctor.
5. Spider Angiomas
Another symptom of cirrhosis are swollen blood vessels. Called spider angiomas, these affected blood vessels get their name from their spiderweb-like appearance just below the skin. When the liver fails to adequately metabolize hormones, the level of estrogen can increase causing capillaries to take on this unsightly form in 33% of cirrhosis sufferers.
The liver is constantly detoxifying the blood. But if the liver is not working properly, toxins remain in the bloodstream coursing all through the body. When these toxins reach the brain, they could cause hepatic encephalopathy—deterioration in brain function. This could result in confusion, loss of short-term memory and even loss of consciousness.
7. Portal Hypertension
When the liver is scarred, blood is prevented from flowing through the organ easily. This causes pressure to build up in the vein that supplies the liver with blood, the portal vein. Portal hypertension leads the blood to circumvent this vein like a car circumventing a blocked road by taking a smaller side street. The blood chooses fragile veins in the esophagus and stomach which can ultimately lead to their rupture. This shows up as internal bleeding, vomiting blood, or blood-soaked, black stools. Call your doctor immediately.
8. Chronic Fatigue
Fatigue is the most prevalent symptom in patients with liver disease, probably noticeable because of its impact on quality of life. Fatigue is the product of a damaged liver that cannot keep up with its awesome workload. Tasked with detoxifying the bloodstream (among other jobs), a diseased or damaged liver will leave large amounts of toxins in the blood stream. Headaches are a symptom of this. Fatigue is another.
9. Loss Of Appetite
Loss of appetite is most likely due to cytokines, proteins produced by cells that serve as messengers between cells. Cytokines interact with cells of the immune system to regulate and mediate normal cell processes in the body, and in the case of liver disease, they cause a lack of appetite. This is usually a symptom of advanced liver disease.
10. Swollen Legs And Ankles
If you notice that your legs or ankles begin to swell, and you’re not overweight, and there does not seem to be another cause, it could be due to a build-up of fluid in the body. The excess fluid is pulled by gravity so it sinks to your lower hemisphere, settling in the legs or ankles. There are several causes for this, and none are particularly inspiring. Liver damage is one. If you experience this “edema,” you should speak with your doctor to determine the cause.
11. Dark Urine
If your urine is orange, brown, cola color or amber (like the beer above) it could be a liver warning sign. There are other causes of dark urine, for instance dehydration, medication, urinary tract infections, kidney problems or eating certain vegetables that color the urine. If you can rule these out, a problem with your liver or bile ducts could be the culprit, and you should speak with your doctor.
There are many causes of nausea, ranging from the obvious like overeating or drinking too much alcohol to the not-so-obvious including organ trouble, fear or early stages of pregnancy. Nausea, itself, is not cause for alarm unless it persists or is coupled with other symptoms. If you experience nausea with other symptoms, you should consult with your doctor.
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13. Stool Problems
Another sign of liver damage is the color of what you left behind in the toilet bowl. Although poop can change colors with a varied diet, normally it should be a shade of brown. If successive bowel movements are not in this hue, it’s a signal that something could be wrong. Black, tarry stools are the result of internal bleeding which can be a symptom of liver disease or some other serious problem. Call your doctor.
14. Pain In The Right Upper Abdomen
Pain in the upper abdomen could be the result of inflammation of the liver. In the early stages of the disease, the liver may swell and become tender. The inflammation could be the result of an accumulation of fat, or from your body fighting an infection. If the inflammation is left untreated, your liver can suffer permanent damage. If you feel pain in the right upper abdomen, call your doctor. Catch and treat the disease early enough and the inflammation may subside.
[Featured image credit: www.ec3health.com]