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Signs You Have Liver Damage, Say Experts

Be aware of these signs, doctors warn.

Our liver processes everything we eat and drink and is one of the most vital organs we have. It also helps remove waste from our body and breaks down medications, drugs and alcohol, so having a healthy liver is essential. Dr. Carrie Lam, MD, FAAMFM, ABAARM says, "The liver performs over 500 physiological functions for your body, making it the leading organ in achieving overall optimal health. Over time, exposure to toxins and chemicals in the food and environment can congest your liver, causing the body's immune and stress response systems to become less effective. When the liver is congested, damage can occur." There are warning signs that indicate your liver is damaged and according to experts, Eat This, Not That! Health talked to, here are symptoms to watch out for. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.



Middle aged woman suffering from abdominal pain while sitting on bed at home

 Dr. Jae Pak, M.D., of Jae Pak Medical explains," The biggest tell-tell sign of liver damage is pain. Liver pain can be dull or sharp and presents in the upper-right area of the abdomen. When we experience abdominal pain, it's not always obvious to pinpoint where it's stemming from. If you are experiencing pain in conjunction with fatigue, this should put you on especially high alert. In any case, abdominal pain is an urgent sign to see your doctor."


Get Your Eyes Checked

Woman having an eye exam at ophthalmologist's office

"There are many signs of liver damage/ toxicity that manifest in the eyes," Yuna Rapoport, MD, MPH Board Certified Ophthalmologist explains. "The most obvious is called scleral icterus – this causes a yellowing of the white of the eye and is caused by buildup of bilirubin causing jaundice. Other signs of liver damage in the eye include xanthelasma – or tiny collections of fat on the eyelids, as well as dry and itchy eyes."

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Jaundice patient with yellowish discoloration of skin in comparison with Normal Skin color.

Dr. Taylor Graber, an MD Anesthesiologist and owner of ASAP IVs says, "One of the critical functions of the liver is breaking down damaged or old red blood cells into smaller components that can be recycled or excreted. One of these byproducts which can be excreted is called bilirubin, which exists in an unconjugated (basically meaning unprocessed) and conjugated (processed) form. The usual process is red blood cells are broken down to unconjugated bilirubin which is transformed in the liver into conjugated bilirubin by UDP glucuronyl transferase. This conjugated bilirubin is then excreted through the biliary tree and into the duodenum, where it is eventually excreted into the stool. As the liver becomes acutely or chronically injured, the ability to regulate one of these steps can become deranged. The more deranged, the more the bilirubin can build up in the blood (bilirubin can be detected on a peripheral blood test) which can be seen as jaundice.

When the serum bilirubin (can be tested from a peripheral blood chemistry test) exceeds 2.5-3 mg/dL, which leads to yellowing of the skin (jaundice) and yellowing of the sclera of the eyes (called scleral icterus). While there are other explanations for why this can develop, when these symptoms occur in the absence of abdominal pain, this can indicate the development of pancreatic adenocarcinoma (pancreas cancer).

This can occur by many different processes, and your doctor will be able to tell the cause of the disorder by changes in the "liver function tests" from a complete metabolic panel blood test (AST, ALT, ALK, Albumin, Total Bilirubin, Direct Bilirubin, Indirect Bilirubin) with or without imaging (ultrasound or CT scan of the abdomen). This can be from acute liver failure or chronic liver failure."


Disrupted Sleep or Exhaustion

Blond Woman can't sleep at night.

Dr. Lam says a sign your liver may be damaged is if "you commonly have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep, and you are always tired during the day. A congested liver produces metabolites that can keep your body from falling and staying asleep as it circulates to the brain, triggering unwanted inflammation."

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Acne or Eczema

Skin problem

"As the liver's ability to clear toxins is diminished from congestion, the body will push these toxins out through the skin," Dr. Lam states. 


Unexpected Outbursts of Emotion

Irritated man crossing legs while sitting on the bed and shouting at home

The liver is known in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) as the organ responsible for the release of emotions such as anger, anxiety, and frustration. Excessive outbursts could lead to a body that is known as "heaty," with an increase in the propensity towards sickness.


Lack of Focus

Woman is stressed tired and cant focus on her work

According to Dr. Lam, "Acid from a volatile liver is known to travel through the body to the brain, creating brain fog. Sudden allergies to foods or environment—the liver may suddenly see familiar foods or cleaning products as toxic when it could handle them before."

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Sudden Allergies to Foods or Environment

Woman scratching her arm.

"The liver may suddenly see familiar foods or cleaning products as toxic when it could handle them before," says Dr. Lam. 


Decrease in Absorption of Nutrients

Displeased young woman doesn't want to eat her breakfast

Dr. Lam states, "Nutrients, not only toxins, are filtered by the liver. When it is congested, the nutrients cannot be properly filtered for their appropriate use."

RELATED: Warning Signs You Have a "Fatty Liver"


Hormone Imbalance

Woman is irritated and frustrated at work because of hormones

"The liver synthesizes and secretes important hormones, including, but not limited to, Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1), Angiotensinogen, Thrombopoietin, Hepcidin and Betatrophin," Dr. Lam explains. "When the liver is congested, it throws off the secretion of these hormones leading to an imbalance in the endocrine system. Also, it's important in the breakdown of steroid hormones like progesterone and estrogen. Excessive liver congestion can reduce the clearing capability of the liver to eliminate steroid hormones, resulting in toxic overload internally." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather