Pain in and around the liver – and pain in other parts of the body caused by disorders of the liver – is always very serious when it occurs. In the early stages of liver disease, most of the time there are no overt symptoms. The liver can suffer considerable damage and functional decline before the sufferer notices anything wrong. When symptoms do appear, the damage has progressed far enough that it may not be possible to reverse and restore full liver functionality.

For that reason, it’s a good idea to identify liver problems early, and also to avoid risk factors for liver disease before it begins. When symptoms of liver damage do appear, here are some of the things the patient can expect.


Liver disease can cause pain in the abdomen and the upper right-hand area of the chest (in the liver itself. It can also, as a secondary effect, produce pain in other parts of the body. Especially likely is pain in the lower back, in the chest, and in the area of the digestive system. Pain after eating as a result of digestive malfunction can occur.

The liver itself has no sensory nerve endings in its interior. It does have sensory nerve endings in its surface, so that pain can result from pressure on the liver from outside. This is most likely to happen when the liver swells, as it does with hepatitis or fatty liver disease, or with cancer of the liver. As liver function declines, secondary pains can occur in almost any part of the body but most commonly in the abdominal area.


The liver itself swells in size as part of several liver diseases. This can produce noticeable bloating of the abdominal area. Cirrhosis of the liver can produce swelling or fluid buildup in the abdomen and also in the legs (edema).

Skin Changes

Liver disease can cause the skin to change color, either darkening or lightening to an abnormal degree. It can also cause jaundice, a condition in which the skin and the whites of the eyes turn a yellowish color. Redness can occur in the hands and feet due to weakening of the blood vessels, which appear red and spider-like.

Brain And Nervous System Abnormalities

Liver disease can produce sensory and behavioral symptoms due to damage to the brain and nervous system. These can include agitation and mood changes, hallucinations, difficulty concentrating, confusion and decreased alertness, sluggish movements, and phantom pains or numbness or tingling in the arms and legs.

If liver disease is allowed to progress, it can lead to severe examples of all of these symptoms and ultimately to death. As liver disease is usually irreversible, it is always desirable to detect it as early as possible when the damage may be arrested before it is significant.

Causes Of Liver Disease

The biggest single cause of liver disease is alcohol abuse. Alcohol is processed in the liver, allowing it to be digested for calories, and damages the liver in the process. The damage continues and accumulates over time as a person drinks to excess on a regular basis.

Besides alcohol abuse, the largest causes of liver disease are obesity and diabetes. Any of these three risk factors call for use of blood tests to detect loss of liver function or damage to the liver. Other risk factors include a family history of liver disease, use of certain medications (notably statin drugs for lowering of cholesterol levels), and certain viral and bacterial infections, particularly viral hepatitis.

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