Each organ in the body is different. The liver, for example, is the largest internal organ. Some people think of the liver as a complicated chemical factory that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Your liver is involved in almost every process: everything you eat, everything you drink, even everything you rub on your skin is processed by your liver. And those are just a small part of the liver’s functions.
The primary function of your liver, as you may know, is to process toxins and flush them out of your body. But when large parts of the liver become damaged, your liver fails to deliver and cannot function properly. The good news is that there are signs of liver damage that will warn you just in time to do something. But if you fail to recognize these signs, liver failure is actually a life-threatening condition.
Before we go to the signs, let’s list what causes liver damage.
Causes of liver failure
There are a few common causes of liver damage. Here are some that cause the liver to fail over months, sometimes even years. It all comes down to prolonged ignorance of the signs of liver damage:
- Hepatitis B and C
- Long-term alcohol consumption in large doses
- Hemochromatosis, a disorder that causes your body to absorb too much iron
- Cirrhosis, as a result of excessive use of alcohol
There are also causes for instant / fairly quick liver failure:
- Acetaminophen overdose
- Ingestion of poisonous wild mushrooms
- Reactions to certain prescriptions
- Viruses like hepatitis A, B, and C in children
Now let’s take a look at some of the signs of liver damage that you can recognize, so you can act accordingly.
One of the first signs you’ll notice when your liver is failing is abdominal swelling, which points to a condition doctors call “ascites.” Simply put, a liver malfunction causes an imbalance of proteins in your abdomen area. As a result, fluid builds up in the tissue, and your abdominal area swells. To know for sure whether this is a sign of liver damage or not, you need to look for the exact area. The area in which you’ll notice abdominal swelling in the upper left corner, just behind the rib cage. This area is part of the lymph system.
Swelling is just one thing you’ll notice in your abdomen when your liver is malfunctioning. Swelling is usually accompanied by pain, which also comes in the upper abdominal area, just under the lower ribs. The pain feels like stabbing or throbbing, and it comes and goes. However, if the pain is intense and constant, you should instantly check with your doctor.
One of the most common and frequent symptoms of liver failure is fatigue. The reason is simple: your liver cannot process toxins, and your body has to work overtime. As a result, you feel tired and exhausted. What is important to note here is that fatigue is more than just a physical symptom. When your liver is failing, you’ll feel mentally fatigued as well. It’s normal to be fatigued from time to time, but if it’s constant, check with your doctor.
As mentioned previously, once your liver starts failing, it produces fewer proteins. Most of these proteins are necessary for blood clotting, and as a result, you bruise easily. Bleeding and bruising are among the common visual signs of liver damage.
Being prone to bruises is a common blood disorder. And people with liver disease or liver damage are more prone to blood disorders. With your liver not working properly, your blood doesn’t clot properly either. The result is a low platelet count, accompanied by easy bruising and bleeding. If you can’t explain the origin of your bruises, the cause might be a blood disorder linked to liver damage.
For people with liver damage, nausea is prolonged. Every one of us can experience a short-lived nausea episode from time to time (the sensation of an urge to vomit). Most people are familiar with the unpleasantness of nausea. However, when it is prolonged, it can be devastating. Both physical and mental factors cause nausea, but in the case of liver failure, the reason is poor liver functionality. After fatigue, nausea is one of the first visible signs of liver damage.
When you experience nausea, it’s only logical that you experience vomiting as well. Even though some people don’t vomit when they’re nauseous, nausea and vomiting go hand in hand for people with liver damage. The reason is simple: your liver can’t eliminate toxins and your digestive distress increases.
That being said, if you experience persistent vomiting, it is imperative that you visit your doctor. Spotting the signs of liver damage early is crucial for effective treatment.
Another digestive problem that occurs due to liver failure is diarrhea. Similar to vomiting and nausea, diarrhea is among the first visible symptoms. As said previously, the liver is responsible for breaking down and processing what we eat, drink, and even touch. When it isn’t functioning properly, all other systems respond negatively to “unfavourable materials.” In the case of the digestive system, diarrhea is a common response.
Loss of appetite
Many doctors argue that this is more of a mental condition than a physical one. Patients with liver damage are repulsed by the idea of eating because they know that their digestion system is not working properly. The whole process becomes unpleasant, strained, and, quite frankly, difficult. As a result, the brain sends signals that it is not hungry, just so the patient can save himself from the pain, trouble, and discomfort of eating.
Mostly associated with newborns, this medical condition occurs in adults as well. As your liver fails and stops functioning properly, waste and toxins are no longer eliminated from the body. And then bilirubin, a bile pigment, builds up in the bloodstream. As a result, your skin and eyes take on a yellowish colour, your urine appears darker, and your stool is lighter.
For babies, the condition can be treated by putting them under a special lamp. However, for adults, the condition is a sign and symptom of liver damage and requires more severe treatment.
We mentioned previously that the brain also reacts to your liver functioning improperly. One way that the brain reacts is by sending a signal that you are not hungry. But there are more severe cognitive issues that develop as a result of toxin buildup. Confusion and difficulty concentrating are the first signs of toxin overload in the brain. More severe cognitive issues are changes in sleeping habits and forgetfulness.
Treatments for liver failure
There are different treatments depending on the severity of the liver damage; it all comes down to your diagnosis. In some cases, liver problems can be treated just with lifestyle modifications. However, that applies only if the signs of liver damage are detected early; in such cases, eliminating alcohol consumption and losing weight are two modifications to your lifestyle that might help.
However, if the damage is worse, surgery and liver transplant are required.
Prevention of liver damage
The best cure for any disease is prevention. In the case of liver failure and liver damage, there are a few things you can do to prevent the situation from escalating.
- Consume alcohol in moderate doses. For healthy adults, that means one drink for women, and up to two drinks for men. Three drinks per day are defined as heavy drinking.
- Get vaccinated for hepatitis A, B, and C.
- Use medications wisely. Do not put stress on your liver by consuming medications unnecessarily.
- Avoid contact with blood and body fluids from other people, as hepatitis is spread through blood.
- Protect your skin when using insecticides and toxic chemicals. You might think that they are harmless if not consumed, but as we mentioned, even toxins that touch your skin are processed by the liver.
- Maintain a healthy weight.