You might think that your body would produce some pretty serious symptoms if your liver started to fail, but that’s not always true. In fact, liver damage isn’t always apparent, and its signs can be pretty subtle. It’s no secret that there are a lot of things that can go wrong with our bodies, but some of them can be easy to push aside. Even when the problems are glaring, many people choose to ignore them, whether out of fear or just because they feel they can’t make the time. When it comes to liver damage, however, you’ll definitely want to, as it can present some subtle and not-so-subtle signs that something is dangerously wrong. Don’t take out word for it, though—pay your doctor a visit if you experience any of these troubling signs of liver damage.
So, what causes liver damage?
Though anyone can be affected by liver damage at some point in time, it’s worth noting that there are a few factors that can make it a bigger possibility for you. They include:
- Excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages
- A buildup of fat within the liver, which is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Abnormalities within the immune system
- Certain viruses and parasites
- Liver cancer
- Genetic conditions that affect liver function
Any of these factors and conditions can eventually lead to severe liver damage if left untreated, so talk to your doctor if you begin to experience any of the following symptoms, or just anything that’s abnormal for you.
Your eyes become yellow.
Most of us notice that our eyes become a little red from time to time, whether it’s because we’re tired or because an incredibly persistent eyelash got stuck in there sometime during the day. While both of these things are normal, what’s not normal is when your eyes turn yellow. This is a sign of jaundice, a condition that can occur when your liver isn’t breaking things down properly. The yellow color comes from a substance call bilirubin, a byproduct of the breakdown of red blood cells, which would normally be removed from the body after the liver breaks it down.
You’re always itchy.
Chronic itchy skin shouldn’t send you into a panic about whether or not you might have liver damage, but it’s important to pay attention to if you experience it along with any of these other symptoms. Though it’s not known exactly why liver damage can lead to constant scratching, research suggests it’s linked to the production of bile salts. The liver produces bile to aid in digestion but, for people with certain liver conditions, the liver may stop producing the substance or it might not be able to use it properly, which can make it accumulate in the body. For example, primary biliary cirrhosis is a disease that can collapse the bile duct and trap it in your liver.
Your urine is dark.
Not only can liver damage affect the color of your urine, it can also make your stool look different, too. When it comes to your urine, a dark yellow color means that you’re probably dehydrated, but anything that looks more orange, amber, brown, or even root beer-colored should be an immediate cause for concern. For your stool, look out for anything grey, yellow, or overly pale in color. Bile is what gives your stool its normal brown color, so anything that appears much lighter could indicate that something’s going on in the liver. However, using an antacid that contains aluminum hydroxide can also cause lighter stools as well, so don’t be too alarmed if it seems to be just a one-time thing after a bout of heartburn.
Your abdomen feels swollen.
Persistent bloating is never great no matter what’s causing it but, for most people, it’s something that eventually passes without many problems. However, if your abdomen starts to swell and doesn’t show any signs of stopping, it’s always worth getting it checked out. While it could just be fluid retention or gas, it could also point to liver damage or damage to the blood vessels in or around your liver. Liver scarring, also known as cirrhosis, could be blocking or putting pressure on blood vessels that lead in or out the your liver, causing a buildup of fluid within the body. With a quick trip to your doctor, you’ll be able to figure out if it’s just gas or something’s little more serious.
You’re forgetful, or maybe confused.
We all have days where we’re not at our best, and perhaps on these days we repeatedly forget little details or have trouble understanding something simple. If you start noticing it happening more often than not, however, it’s time to see a doctor. Among many other things, feeling increasingly confused or forgetful can be a sign that toxins are building up in your body because your liver is damaged and unable to filter them out. The condition is called hepatic encephalopathy and is common in those who suffer from chronic liver issues.
You’re always tired.
If you always find yourself waking up tired after a good night’s sleep, it’s pretty much always a sign that something’s not quite right within your body. For the majority of people, it’s probably due one long night out that can be fixed with another few hours of sleep, but it can also point to liver issues. This is because the organ stores glucose for the body and also releases it, so anything that affects liver function can also have an impact on energy levels, too.
You’re at an unhealthy weight.
Being overweight can increase your risk for a lot of different health problems, and liver damage is definitely one of them. This is because of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which occurs when fat within the body begins to build up within or around the liver. It can eventually lead to scarring of the liver which can then complicate things even further. Though nonalcoholic fatty liver disease can sometimes affect people who aren’t considered to be at a high risk for it, you can take steps to prevent it by doing things to keep yourself at a healthy weight.
You have hepatitis.
This one’s a no-brainer: If you have hepatitis, you are absolutely more likely to experience liver damage at some point. There are a few different types of hepatitis, and one causes different symptoms and affects the liver in a different way. Hepatitis A is an incredibly contagious form of the virus that is often spread through contaminated water and food. It often causes jaundice and flu-like symptoms. Hepatitis B is a form of the virus often spread through sexual contact with an infected person. It usually causes jaundice, dark urine, and abdominal pain. Hepatitis C is usually spread through contact with infected blood. It doesn’t always cause symptoms immediately, but can cause jaundice, chronic fatigue, and nausea. There are many other forms of hepatitis—autoimmune hepatitis, alcoholic hepatitis, hepatitis D, and hepatitis E—but the factor that they all share is that they cause inflammation within the liver. Fortunately, most of them are treatable or preventable, so you can talk to your doctor if you believe you’re more at-risk.
Liver disease runs in your family.
Like many other diseases and conditions, having a family history of liver problems can make you more likely to develop them at some point in time. Of course, that’s not a guarantee, as there are many liver conditions that are the result of personal choices, but there are a few that do have a genetic component. These conditions include liver cancer, hemochromatosis, and alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.