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Symptoms of a damaged liver

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

Most often, we only find out a liver is damaged all of a sudden, because changes can develop for a long time without causing noticeable ailments. The first symptoms of a damaged liver are significant fatigue, bloating, vomiting and abdominal pain. They are often accompanied by itching of the skin and a change in its colour - the characteristic symptoms of jaundice.

Pain in the liver can be confused with other digestive diseases. However, symptoms of liver damage usually only appear when this organ is already significantly damaged. Which symptoms of hepatitis and cirrhosis should we worry about? What will help to recognise the damage before symptoms appear?

Symptoms depend on the degree of damage

Very often, liver function disorders develop over a long period of time. In the beginning, a diseased liver usually shows no symptoms, but over many years the symptoms slowly begin to intensify and become more characteristic.

Depending on the duration and severity of liver damage, it can be asymptomatic or symptomatic.

Asymptomatic form

Liver dysfunction in the early stages of the disease is usually asymptomatic. A sick person can feel well for a long time. Unfortunately, this situation leads to disease progression and is not properly treated.

To avoid chronic liver diseases, it is worth having regular blood tests. In the event of liver damage, ALT and/or AST are released from the liver into the bloodstream. The LIVER-Screen® rapid test detects these transaminases.

Symptomatic form - characteristic symptoms

As with asymptomatic form - non-specific symptoms make it difficult to recognise a problem with the liver. Systemic symptoms can often be attributed to other illnesses or be downplayed.

Non-specific symptoms to look out for:

  • General fatigue and reduced physical capacity, feeling of chronic fatigue

  • Trouble falling asleep and insomnia

  • Significant reduction in appetite

  • Flatulence

  • Discomfort after eating

  • Worsening of skin itching

Symptoms of a diseased liver in an advanced stagе

Severe symptoms of hepatitis and cirrhosis appear due to significant damage to the liver’s function. This is due to the disappearance of liver cells (hepatocytes), which are responsible for carrying out processes related to metabolism, including the production of proteins necessary for the correct process of coagulation or the metabolism of hormones. In addition, there are blood circulation disorders in the largest blood vessel of the liver - the portal vein.

What are the symptoms of a damaged liver?

  • Jaundice - yellowing of the skin and mucous membranes, the typical symptoms of jaundice are one of the most characteristic changes when there is damaged liver function

  • Haemorrhagic diathesis - very intense bleeding, most often associated with the rupture of varices of the oesophagus, stomach or anus

  • Anaemia and reduced number of platelets in the blood, enlarged spleen

  • Extensive bruising that occurs at the slightest injury

  • Swelling and muscle cramps, especially in the lower legs

  • Ascites – increase in abdominal circumference due to fluid accumulation

  • Umbilical hernia

  • Changes in the digestive system - diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea

  • Mental disorders, decreased libido

  • Anorexia

  • More frequent infections and low fever

  • Liver cobwebs, angiomas and dilated capillaries appearing on the skin

  • White discoloration of the nail plate

  • Hormonal disorders – in men it manifests as atrophy of the testicles, underarm hair, in women there are menstrual cycle disorders, infertility, hirsutism

Symptoms of a damaged liver requiring emergency medical attention

Pain in the liver or other symptoms appearing during the course of the disease can be strong and dangerous for the patient's health. This is a direct threat to life, so, especially in the case of these four symptoms, you should always contact your doctor or a hospital immediately:

  • Vomiting fresh blood or bleeding from the digestive tract through the anus

  • Exhaling air that has an unpleasant smell (similar to rotting meat) or signs of jaundice are visible on the skin

  • Sudden change in mental status - slowness of movements, sudden drowsiness, dullness and confusion, trembling of hands, unexplained laughter and unnatural cheerfulness

  • Ascites and pain in the liver, most often felt as severe abdominal pain

Hepatic encephalopathy

Up to 50% of people with cirrhosis also have psychiatric symptoms related to liver damage. Hepatic encephalopathy is a major and dangerous complication in people with cirrhosis - it occurs in 30 to 50% of cases. The liver performs a detoxifying function in the body. When there are too few hepatocytes or blood flow through the liver is impaired, the concentration of toxins and unnecessary metabolites increases in the blood. Neurotoxic effects, like damage to the central nervous system, can be caused, for example, by ammonia, which a healthy liver metabolises - while a damaged one is unable to.

Changes that could occur:

  • Personality changes

  • Mood swings

  • Fear and anxiety

  • Problems in performing simple mathematical operations

Millions of people worldwide suffer from acute and chronic liver damage, cancer and cirrhosis. Knowing the symptoms that accompany liver damage and performing diagnostic blood tests is critical to preventing complications and late treatment. And limiting or stopping the use of alcohol and other harmful substances is a good preventive measure that everyone can take.


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