Liver disease is a broad term that can describe any issue that damages the liver and affects its function. Possible causes include infections, genetic conditions, autoimmune disorders, and cancer.

As liver disease progresses, the liver’s ability to function may diminish to the extent that it will no longer be able to keep the person alive.

A person with liver disease symptoms should talk with a doctor to determine the best treatment. Early treatment can often stop or slow the progression of liver disease and improve a person’s quality of life.

This article discusses the symptoms of liver disease, as well as its diagnosis and the treatment options.

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Liver disease describes several different medical conditions that damage the liver and lead to reduced functioning.

There are many different types of liver disease, which can occur as a result of viruses, genetic conditions, and cancer, among other causes.

Treatments can cure some diseases that affect the liver and prevent them from potentially leading to life threatening liver failure.

Liver disease can be acute or chronic. Acute liver disease occurs when something suddenly damages the liver.

Chronic liver disease occurs when a condition continues to affect the liver for 6 or more months.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, acute liver disease may have several symptoms, including:

  • fever
  • tiredness or weakness
  • yellowing of the skin and eyes, known as jaundice
  • dark urine
  • pale stool
  • nausea and vomiting
  • pain under the ribs on the right side of the body

In some cases, depending on the cause of liver disease, these symptoms may come on suddenly. It is also possible that about 50% of people with acute liver disease will have no symptoms.

People living with chronic liver disease may not experience any symptoms until the disease has progressed for many years.

Hepatitis symptoms

Hepatitis refers to inflammation of the liver.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common types of viral hepatitis are A, B, and C.

A person may also develop hepatitis from medications, toxins, or heavy alcohol use.

The CDC note that the symptoms of acute disease can occur anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months after exposure. The symptoms of chronic hepatitis can take decades to show up. Some common symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • appetite loss
  • light-colored stools
  • fever
  • nausea
  • jaundice
  • abdominal pain
  • vomiting
  • dark urine
  • joint pain

However, some individuals living with hepatitis may not experience any symptoms at all.

Fatty liver disease symptoms

Fatty liver disease occurs when fat develops in the liver. The accumulated fat can damage a person’s liver over time, impairing its function.

As with other liver conditions, fatty liver disease may not produce any symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they can include:

  • weakness
  • itchiness that lasts a long time
  • severe fatigue
  • unexplained weight loss
  • jaundice
  • blood vessels that look like spiderwebs on the skin

Genetic condition symptoms

There are many different types of genetic liver disease, many of which are not well-known. According to the American Liver Foundation, two of the most common are alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency and Alagille syndrome.

The symptoms of these conditions vary but can include:

  • fatigue
  • abdominal swelling
  • poor appetite
  • abnormal liver test results
  • jaundice
  • swelling in the legs
  • pale, loose stools
  • poor growth rate in the first 3 months of life
  • itchy skin

Autoimmune symptoms

There are a few types of autoimmune liver disease, one of the most common being autoimmune hepatitis. A person living with this condition may experience symptoms such as:

  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • diarrhea
  • loss of appetite
  • jaundice

As the disease progresses, more severe symptoms may appear. These may include loss of brain function, swelling in the legs, and fluid in the abdomen.

Cancer symptoms

Liver cancer shares several symptoms with other liver diseases.

A person should talk with their doctor as soon as possible if they notice these symptoms. Early diagnosis can help improve the likelihood of successful treatment.

Common symptoms of liver cancer include:

  • loss of appetite
  • unintentional weight loss
  • enlarged liver
  • enlarged spleen
  • feeling full after a small meal or snack
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • itching
  • fluid buildup in the abdomen
  • jaundice

Cirrhosis symptoms

Cirrhosis occurs when the liver becomes permanently scarred and damaged.

Cirrhosis often develops due to other conditions, such as hepatitis or alcohol-related liver disease. It can cause several symptoms early on, including:

  • discomfort or pain in the upper right side of the abdomen
  • poor appetite
  • feeling tired or weak
  • vomiting
  • unintentional weight loss
  • nausea

As time goes on, the symptoms can become more severe. Other symptoms that may develop include:

  • jaundice
  • bruising or bleeding easily
  • cognitive impairment
  • severe itchy skin
  • swelling in the lower legs, ankles, or feet
  • abdominal bloating
  • dark urine

Liver failure symptoms

Liver failure occurs when the liver slows or stops its normal functioning. This condition is life threatening and requires care.

The symptoms can be mild initially and increase in severity as the condition worsens. Some common early symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhea

As the condition progresses, symptoms can become worse and include:

  • confusion or disorientation
  • extreme sleepiness
  • coma

Liver failure can be fatal.

There are several potential risk factors for developing liver disease.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, some of those factors include:

  • excessive alcohol consumption, which increases the risk of cirrhosis or liver cancer
  • living with diabetes
  • obesity
  • high cholesterol
  • having a history of liver disease, such as hepatitis B or C, both of which increase the risk of liver cancer
  • harmful supplements
  • exposure to environmental toxins, such as household cleaning products or fertilizers or pesticides on fruits and vegetables

If a person suspects that they have liver disease or damage, they should schedule an appointment with a doctor.

A doctor will likely ask the person about their symptoms, as well as their medical history. They will also conduct a physical examination.

In addition, the doctor may order one or more tests.

Some common tests to diagnose liver disease or damage include:

  • alpha-fetoprotein test
  • lactic dehydrogenase test
  • 5′-nucleotidase test
  • mitochondrial antibodies test
  • aspartate transaminase (AST) test
  • gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase test
  • serum albumin test
  • serum bilirubin test
  • serum alkaline phosphatase test
  • prothrombin time (PTT) test
  • serum aminotransferases (transaminases)
  • alanine transaminase (ALT) test

The best treatment for liver disease will depend on several factors, including the type of liver disease and the person’s age and other medical conditions.

For some types of liver disease, a doctor may prescribe medications to help ease symptoms or treat the condition directly.

A person with a diagnosis of liver cancer is likely to need different cancer treatments to remove or fight the disease.

In some cases of liver failure, it may be possible to save part of the liver. If this is not an option, a person may need to undergo liver transplant surgery.

The outcome for people living with liver disease will vary depending on their age and overall health, the severity of the condition, and the effectiveness of treatment.

A person should talk with a doctor about the treatments available. The doctor can explain whether the treatment is likely to cure the disease or whether there are other ways to manage the disease better.

They should be able to provide the person with a good idea of how well they might respond to treatment.

Liver disease describes many different conditions that affect the liver and its functioning.

A person may not experience any symptoms of their condition until they have lived with it for years.

It is important to talk to a doctor about any symptoms that may indicate a problem with the liver. Many types of liver disease produce similar symptoms, so a doctor may need to order tests to help them make a diagnosis and determine the best treatment options.