“Ow, my liver!” is not a phrase that comes up often in conversation. Liver pain, however, is a very real thing that is often a sign of an underlying problem. There are various types of liver disease ranging from viral to genetic to lifestyle, each of which is capable of causing liver pain among other symptoms.
Your liver is extremely important. In addition to aiding digestion, the liver serves as one of the primary ways your body filters out undesired and toxic substances.
People have a habit of trying to suffer through their pain, especially if it doesn’t come with other symptoms. If you have reason to believe your pain is connected to your liver, it is imperative that you bring the matter to your doctor’s attention.
Causes of Liver Pain
Almost all causes of liver pain are related to some form of liver disease, or at least a disease that affects the liver. The exception is injury. Since it is not too hard to tell if you have been stabbed in the liver, we are going to focus on the disease part of the equation.
“Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver and is a symptom that can come from various causes of liver pain. Viral hepatitis is a type of infection that can attack the liver.
For clarity, this article will use “hepatitis” on its own to refer to the symptom and “viral hepatitis” or a letter identifier to refer to the liver disease.
Viral hepatitis comes in six forms: A, B, C, D, E, and G. The main way each type differs is in the way they spread and what selection of symptoms can occur. There is, however, considerable overlap between different types. The exception is Hepatitis G, which causes no symptoms.
|-Fecal contaminated food/drink
-Fecal/oral route (i.e.: not wiping or washing well enough and then touching the mouth)
|-Contaminated blood or organ donation
-Can be passed from mother to child–
-Sharing toothbrushes, razors, needles, etc.
|30% of serious cases show no symptoms
|-Contaminated blood or blood products
-Can pass from mother to child
-Sharing personal items
|-Only occurs in people with a hepatitis B infection
-Contaminated blood-Rarely through sex
-Sharing personal items
|Most people show no symptoms
|-Fecal/oral route-Contaminated food or water
-Can pass from mother to child
|Yes, but 90% of infected children don’t show symptoms
|-Often found alongside other hepatitis viruses or HIV
-Contact with infected blood/blood products
-Sharing personal items-Sexual activity
-Can be passed from mother to child
An autoimmune disease is when your body begins to attack itself. Certain autoimmune diseases will cause this offensive to be directed towards your liver or its supporting structures.
Examples include autoimmune hepatitis (attacks which cause liver to swell) and primary biliary cirrhosis, where the bile ducts the liver uses are destroyed over time.
A few genetic conditions can end up damaging the liver, causing liver pain among other potentially dangerous effects. Potential candidates include hemochromatosis (abnormal accumulation of iron) and Wilson’s disease (abnormal accumulation of copper).
Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
This is an umbrella term for a series of conditions that can arise in people who drink little to no alcohol. As the name implies, the main commonality is that the liver will begin to accumulate fat and inflammation and eventually begin to scar over (cirrhosis).
The reason this happens isn’t fully understood, but the condition has been linked to obesity, insulin resistance, high blood sugar, and high levels of triglycerides.
Your liver is tasked with breaking down and purging the body of any alcohol that is ingested. This process takes time, however, and the liver can only detox so much at once. In cases of chronic alcohol use, the liver can be put into a near-continual state of alcohol detox.
In addition to taking away resources from normal liver activity, this constant focus can cause alterations or destruction to liver cells. The end result can be alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, a fatty liver, cancer, etc.
Accompanying Symptoms of Liver Pain
Although they take different forms, the causes of liver pain listed above will cause similar symptoms. This is because they all do largely the same thing, albeit through different routes: damage the liver and stop it from doing its livery thing. In addition to liver pain, symptoms of liver disease can include the following.
Bilirubin is a yellowish-orange substance found in liver bile. When the liver can’t function properly, this will build up to levels where it can start affecting the color of the body.
Jaundice is the yellowing of the skin, whites of the eyes, and mucus that comes from excess bilirubin. Jaundice indicates advanced liver damage and warrants immediate medical attention.
The inflamed-liver variety. If the hepatitis is due to an infection, a fever is also likely to present as well. Nausea and vomiting may also occur.
This can be caused by a swollen liver or by the buildup of fluid or fat in the area. This can cause a loss of appetite if it ends up pressing on the stomach. It may also be the result of a cyst or other type of growth. On the extreme end of the spectrum, this swelling can be enough to make you appear heavily pregnant.
Liver bile affects the color of your stool. Without it, your feces will appear paler, light gray, or even white.
The liver is important for processing food, and damage to the liver can impair the body’s ability to build and store energy. Just a little bit of exertion can exhaust you.
As bilirubin gets deposited into the skin, the bile crystals will begin to irritate and cause an itchy sensation. The feeling can be localized to a specific area or general across large swaths of the body.
A spider angioma (also called a spider nevus) is a cluster of dilated blood vessels that spread out from a central point and resemble a spider web. They can form on the face, neck, hands, and upper chest most of the time but can appear anywhere on the body.
Although spider angiomas appear often alongside liver damage, they can also come from much more benign causes. A spider angioma on its own with no other symptoms is not cause for concern.
Liver Pain Remedies
The way to treat liver pain is to address the underlying cause and repair damage to the liver. Alternatively, if you are interested in remedies for liver pain exclusively, you could take a bunch of pain medication. A more long-term solution can involve methods such as:
- Hepatitis B and C have antiviral medications available
- Hemachromatosis can be treated with removing excess iron from the body (bloodletting, etc.)
- Hepatitis A will clear up on its own
- Lifestyle changes such as stopping the use of alcohol can allow the river room to recover
- Autoimmune diseases are treated with medication like steroids or immune suppressants
- Monitoring of liver function is often done to track progression and recovery
- If other methods fail, a liver transplant may be required