There’s no organ in your body that works harder than your liver. It’s the largest internal organ (and gland) and is continuously working on over five hundred processes to manufacture proteins, process nutrients, produce hormones, fight infection, metabolize cholesterol and glucose, and more.
Liver damage can occur as the result of:
- alcohol abuse
- aluminum (from cookware; foods and food packaging; air pollution; anti-perspirants, deodorants, and other personal care products; fluoride in tap water)
- excess fat in the liver (“fatty liver”)
- excess iron or vitamin A
- medications: acetaminophen (Tylenol), anti-depressants, statins, antibiotics, antacids, and others (find a list here published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine) (1, 2)
- food: processed foods, excess sugar, artificial sweeteners, too many carbohydrates, high-fructose corn syrup, soda, nutrient deficiency
- chemicals used in: personal care products, agriculture, household products
- smoking cigarettes
- other underlying disease, like Crohn’s and hepatitis
- some herbs: chaparral, comfrey, kava, skullcap, yohimbe, and others (3)
The liver is astoundingly resilient and can withstand a great deal of punishment. It will tell you in subtle ways when you’re overtaxing it. Here are some signs that your liver needs special attention.
12 Telling Signs of Liver Damage
Because it’s so diverse in its function, the liver can be damaged from several sources. Common diseases of the liver include fatty liver disease, cancer, cirrhosis, drug-induced liver disease, alcohol-related liver disease, and hepatitis. Many of these conditions of the liver are asymptomatic at their onset. Being cognizant and mindful of body changes will let you know that there’s damage taking place. Even given its remarkable ability to heal itself, overload can overwhelm.
1. Abdominal Swelling
Ascites is the accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity that most often occurs as the result of cirrhosis of the liver. There are two major causes for the development of ascites: sodium/water retention and hypertension in the veins that pass from the intestines, pancreas, and spleen to the liver. Inadequate blood flow and inflammation make excretion of sodium from cells more difficult and water therefore accumulates. (4) This fluid can cause tenderness, cramping, pain, and shortness of breath. Ascites can be present with renal (kidney) dysfunction as well. (5)
2. Abdominal Pain
The liver is located below the lungs and above the stomach on the right side of the body. In addition to potential ascites, an inflamed liver can hurt.
3. Fluid Retention
As mentioned above, high blood pressure and sodium retention causes fluid to build up, even in the absence of ascites. Swelling (edema) of the lower extremities, hands, and face is common when fluid accumulates. Edema in various parts of the body can result from other conditions, such as congestive heart failure, kidney disease, lymphatic system dysfunction, and emphysema. (6) Occasional or periodic fluid retention that occurs around the menstrual cycle or during pregnancy is common and will usually go away on its own. Edema that worsens or doesn’t go away requires close examination for the cause.
4. Upset Stomach
Everyone experiences an upset stomach now and then due to illness or something you ate. There are many conditions that can make you feel nauseous for an extended period, like pregnancy, food poisoning, viruses, vertigo, and migraines.
Nausea (sometimes followed by vomiting and/or diarrhea) that lasts for several days may be a red flag. Consider what may be causing your upset stomach and see your healthcare provider if it persists. Nausea that comes as a result of liver failure is usually experienced in conjunction with other symptoms.
Cirrhosis and liver failure affect digestion through complex interactions with the lower digestive tract. Part of what causes abdominal pain, bloating, and nausea is reduced gut motility and nutrient absorption. (7) Insulin resistance and inadequate gut bacteria resulting from liver dysfunction add complications. (8)