As many of you know, liver is the largest organ (next to skin) in the body and is located on the right upper portion of the abdomen. Liver performs many vital functions like maintaining carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism. In addition, liver is the organ that secretes bile and bile salts and involved in filtering of bacteria and other foreign particles from the blood.
Liver can get damaged in various ways like infection, scarring and formation of tumor. Some of the signs of liver damage include confusion of thoughts, yellow coloration of skin and eyes, swelling of abdomen and fatigue. Long term use of alcohol can extensively damage the liver. Detoxification of the blood is yet another major function of the liver which converts ammonia into urea for excretion by the kidneys. Liver helps in the breakdown of several medications and hormone insulin. Liver acts as a warehouse for storing the required amounts of vitamins that can be used further.
Liver Pain Symptoms
When something goes wrong in the liver, it causes dull stomach pain in the right upper portion. Further the skin can become yellowish and even your eyes can turn yellow in color. This is because of impaired function of liver to metabolize bulirubin component in the blood. You may have signs of nausea and vomiting and loss of appetite. Bruises can happen easily when the liver does not work properly. Further it can cause additional signs like loss of weight, shortness of breath, fatigue and general malaise. Liver is also involved with production of sex hormones and hence libido or sex drive can get reduced. In men liver dysfunction can cause impotence.
When no treatment is taken, liver gets damaged badly causing accumulation of excess of fluid in the extremities of the body. Further ammonia content in the body can increase in volumes causing confusion of thoughts and encephalopathy. Under normal condition the liver occupies right upper portion of the abdomen but in severe inflammation the liver bulges extending until the left portion and upper portion of the stomach.
Liver Pain Causes
Many factors can upset the functions of liver and some of them are listed below :
Viral infection is mostly the cause for inflammation of liver. Hepatitis A, B and C are some of the common viral infections of liver. Infection can get transmitted by drinking polluted water or food or through blood transfusion and even when having sex with infected person. Autoimmune disorders like primary biliary cirrhosis and autoimmune hepatitis can infect the liver.
Genes play a vital role in building up unwanted substances in the liver causing damage. Genetic liver problems like Wilson’s disease, Hyperoxaluria and Hemochromatosis belongs to this category.
Cancerous tumor can grow in your liver causing liver cancer and adenoma. Sometimes, cancer can grow in the bile duct also.
- Overuse Of Alcohol
Any amounts of alcohol can definitely damage the liver. But repeated and chronic alcohol abuse can significantly cause scarring of liver or liver cirrhosis. Even with non-drinkers, fat content can accumulate excessively causing fatty liver disease which is often harmless can be controlled by modification of lifestyle and diet.
The doctor will first physically examine the abdomen by gently pressing the liver portion to check for swelling. Further he may order for series of tests including blood culture to check the levels of bilirubin and other components. He may request for CT scan or ultrasound scan to rule out possibility of liver cancer. If needed, MRI scan will be done to identify the exact problem. For some patients, the doctor may do a liver biopsy by removing a small tissue sample of liver through endoscopy (a thin long needle is inserted through the throat) which is tested in the laboratory.
Liver Pain Treatment
Treatment for liver disease depends on the cause and test results.
- For viral infections like hepatitis A or B antiviral medications like epivir, hepsera or telbivudine or Intron A is given. In severe cases liver transplant is to be done.
- For liver cirrhosis no treatment can be given to cure the scarring of liver. Damage done to the liver cannot be reversed. However, treatment can be given in the form of modification of lifestyle and diet, changing medications and following the instructions of the doctor. In severe cases surgical intervention is necessary for survival.
- For patients with liver cancer, chemotherapy and radiation therapy is the ideal treatment. Target therapy is done with medications like sorafenib. In many cases the size of the tumor can reduced with intake of drugs so that surgery can be avoided. In severe form of cancer partial or complete transplant is done.
- The survival rate of liver cancer diagnosed in early stages is about 43% of people who can extend their lives up to 5 years. But the rate of survival is very low (less than 10%) if the cancer has spread to neighboring lymph nodes and tissues.
- Alcohol abuse can cause intense damage to liver which can become irreversible in some cases. The patient can be helped with drug rehab therapy to stop alcohol alongside with lifestyle modification. But here again survival rates depends on factors like age, general health condition and intensity of alcohol abuse.
- Mild to moderate problems in the liver can be repaired with suitable medications and lifestyle changes.
Removal of portion or complete liver is known as liver transplantation. It is considered as the last option for patients who live in end stage of liver disease like cirrhosis, liver cancer or hepatitis infection. Finding suitable donor is the first problem for transplant. In many countries, thousands of people are waiting for donor liver which can be obtained either from living person or deceased (healthy) person. The American Liver Foundation reports that the chance of survival for one year after transplant is 86% and for 3 years it is about 78%. In many cases the new liver is not accepted by the body and hence transplantation can fail miserably. So the doctor will consider several factors before selecting a person for liver transplant.
Liver Pain Prevention Tips
It is quite possible to postpone and prevent liver disease by making small changes in your lifestyle.
- Reduce Alcohol Intake : You can take up to one drink a day if you are an adult (healthy). There are many centers and programs that help in quitting alcohol completely. You are considered as alcohol abuse person, if you are not able to stop drinking and if you are facing other symptoms related to withdrawal of drinking.
- Avoid Illegal Sex : Avoid having sex with strangers and unknown people since they may carry infectious virus.
- Avoid Sharing Needles : You have all possibilities of getting infected by sharing needles with others. You can prevent hepatitis infection by getting vaccinated.
- Use protective masks while handling insecticides, paints or toxic chemicals.
- Maintain your weight and do regular exercises to prevent fatty liver disease.