13 Signs of Liver Disease: Liver Cancer Awareness Month
October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month. If you have any of these symptoms of liver diseaseit may be time to see a doctor.
Your liver is an essential organ. It filters your blood and removes toxins from your body. It helps you digest food. Your liver also makes things your body needs. These are just a few of the hundreds of vital functions your liver performs every day.
But what if something is wrong with your liver? Do you recognize the signs and know what to do?
Unfortunately, most liver problems do not cause noticeable symptoms at first. This means that you may not know something is wrong right away. “The liver is like a black box,” says Stephen Caldwell, MD, liver disease specialist at UVA Health. “Some patients are referred to the liver team by their primary care physician complaining that they just feel shitty.”
Here are answers to common liver health questions – what conditions can damage your liver, what signs to watch out for, and how to keep your liver healthier.
What can go wrong with my liver?
There are a number of conditions that can affect your liver. These include:
Genetic conditions can also affect your liver.
- Hepatitis: A virus that causes inflammation of the liver. It can affect your liver function. There are different strains of the virus (hepatitis A, B and C).
- Cirrhosis: Causes scarring of your liver. As scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue, it can prevent the liver from working properly.
- Fatty liver disease: It is becoming increasingly common in the United States due to rising obesity rates. Too much fat in your liver can cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Drinking too much alcohol can lead to fatty liver disease. “Young professional women are among the largest growing population with advanced alcoholic liver disease,” says Caldwell.
- Liver cancer: It can develop when abnormal cells multiply in your liver. However, it is more common for cancer to spread to your liver from another area of your body.
- Hepatic insufficiency: This can happen when liver disease progresses over time. Although it can be life threatening, there are treatments that can slow the progression of your disease. In some cases you may need a liver transplant.
What are the signs of liver disease or damage?
Even if you don’t have any symptoms of liver disease, especially in its early stages, don’t ignore these symptoms. Talk to your doctor if you have:
Do you think you have symptoms of liver disease?
We can examine you and refer you to a specialist
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
- Abdominal pain or swelling
- Easy bruises
- Itchy skin
- Swelling of the legs or ankles
- lose weight without trying
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weakness or constant fatigue
- White and chalky stools
- Low blood pressure
- Loss of balance or confusion
- Tremors (tremors)
Other conditions can cause these symptoms. To test liver function, a simple blood test is usually done. Other tests, such as an ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, or biopsy, may also be ordered if liver damage or cancer is suspected.
How can I avoid liver disease?
There’s no guarantee you can prevent liver disease, but these tips can reduce your risk:
- Avoid drinking too much alcohol.
- Avoid illegal drugs and chemical exposure.
- Do not smoke.
- Practice safer sex to avoid hepatitis.
- Do not share needles, razors or other personal care items.
- Pay attention to drug warnings. Sometimes not following instructions can damage your liver. Be especially careful when mixing drugs and alcohol.
- Maintain a healthy weight, eat a nutritious diet and exercise regularly.