Liver damage, or cirrhosis, may cause no symptoms in its early stages. Early signs may be nonspecific, such as nausea or fatigue. Later stages can lead to worsening symptoms such as jaundice, itchy skin, and swelling in the lower limbs.
According to 2018 statistics,
When this occurs, scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue, leading to symptoms and possibly liver failure.
A person may not have any initial symptoms. As the damage progresses, a person may start to notice nonspecific symptoms that can progressively worsen.
This article reviews early and late-stage symptoms of liver damage, its causes, treatment, and prevention.
Liver damage has various potential causes, including alcohol use and viral infections.
At first, these conditions may not cause any symptoms. As the damage worsens, a person may begin to notice new, developing symptoms.
Early signs of liver damage and scarring
- loss of appetite
- discomfort or mild pain in the upper right side of the abdomen
- unexplained weight loss
A person may not experience all of these symptoms.
They are also nonspecific symptoms, meaning they could occur due to several potential causes other than liver damage.
As damage to the liver and scarring progresses, a person may start to experience more and worsening symptoms.
- a yellowish tint to eyes or skin — jaundice
- bleeding or bruising easily
- severe itchy skin
- swelling in lower legs, ankles, or feet — edema
- difficulty thinking, confusion, memory loss, changes in personality, or sleep disorders
- a buildup of fluid in the abdomen — ascites
- dark color urine
Liver damage may occur due to a variety of different causes. They
- alcohol misuse
- viral infections, such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C
- diseases that block or damage bile ducts
- long term use of certain medications
- chronic heart failure
- genetic liver diseases, such as Wilson’s disease
- autoimmune hepatitis
These conditions can cause liver damage and scar tissue, known as cirrhosis. When a person has cirrhosis, their liver does not heal, and scar tissue begins to replace healthy tissue.
- portal hypertension, where scar tissue partially blocks and slows blood flow through the liver
- liver cancer
- liver failure
Treatment for cirrhosis typically focuses on correcting the underlying condition. In some cases, a healthcare professional may be able to cure the underlying condition.
However, besides a liver transplant, there is no cure for cirrhosis. Treating the underlying conditions can help prevent further damage and possibly help the person avoid liver failure.
Treatments for underlying causes
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: Weight loss through diet and exercise.
- Chronic hepatitis B: Treatment includes antiviral medications.
- Chronic hepatitis C: Approved medications that treat hepatitis C.
- Alcoholic liver disease: Stopping drinking alcohol and joining alcohol support groups.
- Autoimmune hepatitis: Use of medications to help suppress the immune system.
- Long-term use of certain medications: Stopping or replacing the medication causing the damage.
- Bile duct diseases: Medications or surgery (to open the bile ducts up more).
- Inherited liver diseases: These can vary based on the condition.
A person should work with a doctor or healthcare team to determine the best treatment options for them.
A person may not be able to prevent all causes of liver damage, but they can take steps to reduce their risk and help prevent cirrhosis from worsening.
Some tips to help prevent liver damage
- limiting alcohol
- discussing nutritional supplements with a healthcare professional before taking them
- avoiding illegal drugs
- discussing medications with a healthcare professional before taking them, including both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications
- taking medications as directed
- avoiding undercooked or raw shellfish, fish, and meat
- getting screenings for hepatitis C
- maintaining a moderate body weight
- eating a balanced diet
- getting vaccinations for:
- hepatitis A
- hepatitis B
- pneumonia caused by certain bacteria
People should consult a healthcare professional if they develop symptoms that last longer than a few days and could indicate liver damage.
If a person has cirrhosis and needs to switch medications or is considering taking OTC medications or supplements should also speak with a healthcare professional. They can advise on the safety of taking medications and supplements with cirrhosis.
Liver diseases that cause damage often do not show obvious signs or symptoms until liver damage occurs. At first, symptoms may be mild and include weight loss, fatigue, or nausea.
As the damage progresses, a person’s symptoms will also start to worsen. They may develop jaundice, easily bruise, and develop swelling in their lower limbs.
Treatment typically focuses on correcting the underlying condition. In some cases, treatment may cure the condition. In others, it may help to slow the progression of liver damage.
A person may be able to help prevent liver damage by maintaining a moderate weight, limiting alcohol use, and treating underlying conditions, such as hepatitis C.