What does the liver do? It helps with many metabolic processes and protects against toxins, too. If you have signs of liver failure, talk to your doctor ASAP.
Weighing a little over three pounds (1.4 kg), your liver is one of the largest organs in your body, and it’s absolutely necessary for life. Unfortunately, many infections, drug toxicity, alcohol abuse, some genetic mutations, and even obesity can cause liver disease and, eventually, symptoms of liver failure.
If signs of liver damage are identified early, lifestyle changes and treatment can help preserve liver function. But if signs of liver failure indicate end-stage liver disease, the only life-saving option is a liver transplant, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK) points out. However, researchers are working on new treatment options, including transplants performed with liver tissue from living donors.
Of course, the best what to avoid ever experiencing a symptom of liver failure is to understand what the liver does and what causes liver disease ― and when to seek help if you have any signs of liver damage.
Here’s why your liver is so important
Your liver sits below the diaphragm, in the upper right section of your abdomen. The organ consists of a larger lobe on the right side and a smaller lobe on the left. These two parts of the liver are separated by a band of connective tissue holding the liver in place.
If you wonder what the liver does, the answer is complex. When you eat and take a medication or consume anything else, blood flows from your gastrointestinal tract through a large blood vessel known as the portal vein to your liver. There, nutrients as well as toxins are processed, detoxified when possible, and sent back into the blood or moved into the bowel to be eliminated.
The liver makes bile, a liquid important for the metabolism and absorption of fats. Bile is stored in the gallbladder (which sits on the underside of the liver) until needed. In addition, the liver produces proteins which, when combined with vitamin K, allow blood to clot.
The liver is also crucial when it comes to metabolizing carbohydrates and keeping blood sugar (blood glucose) regulated. The organ stores vitamins, iron, and copper and releases them into the blood over time, too.
Recognize these signs of liver damage
Of course, everything described above applies to a normal, healthy liver. But for the 4.5 million American adults diagnosed with liver diseases, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, it’s a different story.
There are many kinds of liver diseases that can result in symptoms liver failure. Some liver diseases, like most forms of hepatitis, are caused by viruses. Autoimmune hepatitis, however, is the result your body’s immune system attacking the liver, causing inflammation and signs of liver damage. Liver disease can also result from damage caused by taking both illegal and, sometimes, prescription drugs or drinking alcohol to excess.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is most often associated with two common health problems in the U.S.: obesity and type 2 diabetes. It occurs when fat builds up in your liver. Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, is a type of NAFLD that occurs when inflammation and liver cell damage are found in the liver, along with excess fat, the NIDDK explains.
Long-lasting injury or scar tissue in the liver can result in cirrhosis, which means your liver is scarred and permanently damaged because scar tissue has replaced healthy liver tissue. Bottom line: With cirrhosis, your liver can no longer work normally.
Signs of liver damage
- Jaundice (a yellowish appearance) of skin and eyes
- Abdominal swelling and pain
- Itchiness of the skin
- Unusually dark urine
- Feeling chronically exhausted
- Swollen ankles and legs
- Nausea or vomiting; loss of appetite
- Bruising easily
- Pale, tar colored, or bloody stools
We can’t emphasize this enough: Symptoms of liver failure need urgent care
When signs of liver failure develop, your liver is losing or has already lost all of its function, the American Liver Foundation points out.
The first symptom of liver failure is often gastrointestinal distress ― nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, and diarrhea. Although many health problems can cause these symptoms, if you have been diagnosed with any liver problem, it’s important to visit your doctor ASAP to see if your liver condition is worsening.
When liver failure is a result of cirrhosis, symptoms of liver failure typically develop gradually until chronic liver failure or end-stage liver disease, or ESLD, develops. As liver failure progresses, the signs of liver damage and symptoms of liver failure become more serious. Extreme confusion and unusual sleepiness can occur.
Rarely, acute liver failure can develop over the course of just 48 hours. This is usually a reaction to poisoning, or a drug overdose, the American Liver Foundation explains.
If a person with liver disease experiences any worsening symptom of liver failure, it is critical to seek immediate treatment. Signs of progressing liver failure indicate a life-threatening condition with a risk of coma and death.
March 26, 2020
Janet O’Dell RN