Five Signs of Liver Damage to Look For
The liver is the largest glandular organ in the body and is tasked with a great many functions, such as removing toxins, changing glucose into glycogen, storing vitamins, minerals and proteins and regulating cholesterol. It’s also unusual in that it can regenerate. A person can have part of their liver removed surgically, either to donate part of it for transplantation or because of disease, and it will grow new cells. It is due to this that more people don’t die of liver disease.
Disease in the liver usually takes a long time to develop and for symptoms to appear. People with a liver disease called hepatitis C can live with the disease for decades before they begin to notice signs and symptoms. When symptoms do arrive, they can be nonspecific, which means they can be indications of many diseases or no disease at all. Nonspecific signs include pain in the abdomen or fatigue. Other signs point specifically to liver damage. Here are five of them:
This is a classic sign that something may be wrong with the liver, though it may also be a sign that something is wrong with the gall bladder and the pancreas. These organs, along with the liver, are parts of the biliary system. Jaundice means that the liver is not excreting bile the way it should. Bile is a thick, greenish yellow flu that helps digest fat. When it builds up due to liver damage, it can turn the skin and eyes yellow.
2. Dark Urine
Dark urine can be orange, brown or the color of cola. It’s caused by an excess of bilirubin, which is a pigment that’s produced when dead red blood cells start to break down. If the liver can’t excrete bilirubin normally, it can result in urine that’s darker than normal.
3. Easy Bruising
People with liver disease may find bruises on their skin but don’t remember how they got them. This is because a damaged liver no longer produces the amount of blood clotting factor that it should, which leads to easy bruising.
4. Pale Stool
A person with liver disease may find that their stool is pale or chalk-colored. This is another classic sign of damage to the biliary system. Again, bile is not being excreted properly, because bile salts give the stool its brown color.
Conversely, people with black, tarry stools or blood in the stool may also have liver damage. Bloody stool can be a symptom of end stage cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver. Black stools occur because blood isn’t flowing through the liver the way it should. This causes hypertension in the veins that serve the liver, which in turn causes smaller blood vessels in the stomach to burst. The partially digested blood turns the stool black.
5. Swelling in Legs
Edema, or swelling in the ankles and legs are also common in people with liver disease. It has the same cause as tarry stools, which is elevated pressure in the veins in the liver. In the case of swelling, fluid collects in the legs and the ankles. Fluid can also collect in the patient’s abdomen and cause it to enlarge. This is called ascites.
If a person has frequent or regular episodes of these symptoms, they should see their doctor to rule out liver damage or other disorders.