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Sure Signs You Have Liver Disease, Say Physicians

SOS signals from your liver, according to experts.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Liver disease can be very sneaky—if people don't know the signs, it can be easy to miss until the disease is advanced. "That's the tough part of treatment," says Anurag Maheshwari, MD, a gastroenterologist with the Institute for Digestive Health and Liver Disease at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. "Convincing patients that they need to act now in order to avoid complications in the future can sometimes be a challenge, because they don't feel any different today." Here are five sure signs of liver disease, according to doctors. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Being Overweight and Diabetic

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Carrying excess weight and having diabetes are strongly correlated with fatty liver disease, doctors say. "Two risk factors for NAFLD, obesity and diabetes, are becoming more prevalent," says Laura Dichtel, MD, MHS, of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. "We currently do not have any FDA-approved treatments for NAFLD, and weight loss is the only effective treatment. Understanding how growth hormone improves liver fat and inflammation in people with NAFLD could lead to the development of novel targeted treatments." 

2

Fatigue and Weakness

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"One of the most common and debilitating symptoms among individuals with liver disease is fatigue," says Melissa Palmer, MD. "It is universal to all varieties of liver disease from Primary Biliary Cirrhosis to Chronic Hepatitis C. In some patients, fatigue begins several years after the diagnosis of liver disease is made. In others, it was the primary reason for seeking medical attention. In such individuals multiple visits are made to a variety of physicians in search of a cause of their extreme lassitude. Some patients even seek psychiatric evaluation, as an accompanying symptom is often depression."

3

Jaundice

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Jaundice is a common symptom of liver disease, and should never be ignored. "Many disorders that cause jaundice, particularly severe liver disease, cause other symptoms or serious problems," says Danielle Tholey , MD, Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University. "In people with liver disease, these symptoms may include nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, and small spider-like blood vessels that are visible in the skin (spider angiomas).

4

Abdominal Pain

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Abdominal pain could be because of ascites, a sign of liver damage. "Ascites is fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity caused by fluid leaks from the surface of the liver and intestine," according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Ascites due to liver disease usually accompanies other liver disease characteristics, such as portal hypertension. Symptoms of ascites may include a distended abdominal cavity, which causes discomfort and shortness of breath."

5

Weight Loss

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Unexplained weight loss could be a sign of liver disease, experts warn. "Because the liver plays a key role in the digestive system, cirrhosis and cancer in the liver can both cause you to lose your appetite and you may lose weight," according to the Cancer Council of New South Wales.

6

When Should I See a Doctor?

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If you experience any symptoms of liver disease, seek medical attention immediately—the earlier liver disease is diagnosed, the better your chances for treatment. "You don't want to turn yellow with jaundice or feel pain in your upper right abdomen because those are signs your liver is already very sick," says Saleh Alqahtani, MD, director of clinical liver research for Johns Hopkins Medicine. "It is far better to stop liver disease before it gets too serious."

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