Symptoms of Liver Disease

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
June 07, 2019

Many of the early symptoms of liver disease are easy to blame on something else. Especially if you drink heavily, be on the lookout for them. Learn more.

The liver can repair damaged cells — up to a point. Beyond that point, the cells no longer heal, and it develops scars, also called cirrhosis. Those scars can’t be fixed.

A scarred liver is at greater risk for infections and cancer. You cannot live without a functioning liver — you might even need a transplant.

So, it is essential to catch signs of liver problems early before scars occur.

The cause could be an infection, exposure to drugs or toxins in the environment, or heavy drinking. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is the most common problem. The answer is to lose weight and exercise more.


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What does the liver do?

Blood coming from the digestive organs enters the liver, carrying nutrients, medication, and other chemicals. The liver converts these visitors into usable forms, storing or detoxifying them, or releasing them to your bowels. It removes alcohol from your blood as well as byproducts from medication. It stores vitamins and the minerals iron and copper and releases them into your blood when needed. When it breaks down fat, it produces bile — a liquid that is processed through ducts. The liver’s work with proteins creates urea, the chemical in urine.

Symptoms of liver disease

Your symptoms will vary with the cause of a liver problem. Some common symptoms of liver disease include jaundice, when the skin and whites of the eyes turn slightly yellow, weakness and fatigue, weight loss, nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

Other signs of liver disease

  1. Itchy skin. Unless you have a rash, you’ll tend to dismiss itching, blaming it on dry skin. But if your bile duct is blocked, bile flows into your blood stream and accumulates under your skin, making you itch.
  2. Spider angiomas. Also called spider veins, these visible capillaries are red, purple, and blue, and twist and turn — like varicose veins, but smaller. They might show up on your face or legs. The veins develop because of higher than normal levels of estrogen, which can be associated with age, or because your liver isn’t functioning properly.
  3. Blemishes or brown blotches on your face can also arise from too much estrogen in your body, again simply a sign of aging, or combined with other problems, one of the signs of liver disease.
  4. Bruising and bleeding. If slight injuries lead to bruises or bleeding, your liver may not be healthy. It produces the proteins needed to clot blood.
  5. Bad breath. Sinusitis or gum disease can foul your breath. If your breath becomes fruity or musky it may contain high levels of a chemical triggered by cirrhosis. This particular smell may be one of the later signs of liver damage.
  6. Red or burning or itching palms. Hormone build-up in your blood can show up in your palms.
  7. Lack of concentration. If toxins build up in your body because your liver isn’t doing its job, you might become forgetful and distracted.


March 25, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN