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Sure Signs Your Liver Isn't As Strong as it Should Be

Here is what liver damage feels like.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Liver disease is the cause of almost 2 million deaths every year, many of which are preventable. "When the liver is not functioning as well and the liver cells aren't able to do their jobs, the liver is kind of like the trashcan of the body," says transplant hepatologist Christina Lindenmeyer, MD. "It filters all of the blood from the body and the abdomen and the legs, it flows through the liver back to the heart, and so it's the liver's job to clear many of the toxins in conjunction with the kidney. So if the liver isn't working well, it isn't able to clear these toxins. These toxins can build up and lead to confusion." Here are five signs of liver damage, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Obesity and Liver Damage

Nutritionist inspecting a woman's waist using a meter tape

Being overweight or obese is strongly correlated with liver issues, doctors warn. "Weight loss of roughly 5% of your body weight might be enough to improve abnormal liver tests and decrease the fat in the liver," says Wynne Armand, MD. "Losing between 7% and 10% of body weight seems to decrease the amount of inflammation and injury to liver cells, and it may even reverse some of the damage of fibrosis. Target a gradual weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week, as very rapid weight loss may worsen inflammation and fibrosis. You may want to explore the option of weight loss surgery with your doctor, if you aren't making any headway with weight loss and your health is suffering."


Toxic Supplements

omega 3 supplement

Certain over-the-counter medications and supplements can cause liver damage, according to experts. "Make sure that none of your medications, herbs, and supplements are toxic to the liver; you can crosscheck your list with this LiverTox," says Dr. Armand. "Even acetaminophen (the generic ingredient in Tylenol and some cold medicines) may be harmful if you take too much for too long, especially if you have liver disease or drink alcohol heavily."


Drinking Too Much Alcohol

Sad woman drinking wine at kitchen.

Drinking too much alcohol can cause serious liver damage, doctors warn. "Alcohol intake is the leading cause of cirrhosis, so avoiding alcohol or at least minimizing your use can help," says Julio Gutierrez, MD. "We recommend that men limit their intake to two drinks per day; for women, one drink. If you are overweight, there appears to be no safe amount of alcohol to drink."


Fatty Liver Disease


Fatty liver disease is the leading cause of liver disease and a strong sign your liver is under stress, experts say. "Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol — common features of metabolic syndrome — are all known major risk factors for the development of fatty liver disease," says Craig Lammert, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine and a practicing gastroenterologist and hepatologist at IU Health. "The scary piece of this is, anywhere from 15 to 50 percent of the nation's population may have too much fat in the liver… But we don't always know who that's going to be."


Jaundice and Dark Urine

woman hand flush toilet after using

Jaundice and changes in bowel movements should be discussed with a doctor as soon as possible, as they could be signs of liver damage. "Symptoms suggestive of liver disease: jaundice, dark urine, or light-colored bowel movements, loss of appetite, fatigue, vomiting of blood, bloody or black bowel movements, swelling or pain in the abdomen, [and] unusual weight changes," says Mariana Lazo, MD.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan