Liver pain is like a throbbing, dull sensation felt in the upper right region of the abdomen. There can be mild to severe liver pain, depending upon the causes and its impact upon the liver. The pain can be taken care of with specific home remedies. If it is serious, the condition should be referred to a doctor right away.
Before going into the details of liver pain, symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment, let’s have a look at the liver functions and its role in the body functions.
Anatomy of the Liver- Location, and Function
How does the liver look?
It is a large-sized, meaty organ that appears reddish-brown and weighs about 3 pounds.
It is located in the right upper region in the abdomen just below the ribs and the diaphragm. It is surrounded by the lower right ribs and extends up to the lower left upper section of the abdomen.
The liver is divided into two parts, the left, and the right lobes. The pancreas, gallbladder and the intestines are located just below the liver and they function together to help absorb, digest and process the foods you eat.
This metabolically active organ is capable of performing the most vital functions of the body as follows:
- It ensures the production of bile that breaks down the fats that get accumulated during digestion in the small intestine. It also helps to carry off waste.
- Converts the excess glucose in the body into glycogen in order to help balance the level of glycogen. The process enables the body functions not to suffer due to excess glucose, while at the same time produce sufficient glucose as and when required.
- Produces specific proteins required for blood plasma.
- Regulates the blood level as for the amino acids that form the building block for necessary proteins.
- Produces special proteins and cholesterol that help to carry fats.
- Converts ammonia to urea that is then excreted in the form of urine from the body. There is the presence of poisonous ammonia in the body that may harm the functions of the body if not excreted out. The liver helps to produce urea from poisonous ammonia, which results from protein metabolism.
- Helps in strengthening the immune system that allows it to combat infections and eliminate bacteria from the blood.
- Helps in processing hemoglobin in order to use the iron content as stored in the liver.
- Regulates the function of blood clotting
- Aids in detoxification by removing poisonous substances or drugs from the blood in the body.
- Helps in eliminating bilirubin from the blood, the accumulation of which turns eyes and skin yellow.
Since the liver is responsible for the most vital functions in the human body, it is subject to a number of injuries that results in various liver diseases. Liver pain is the outcome of liver diseases or any other organ conditions that may damage the liver. This poorly impacts the various liver functions.
How liver pain affects the body?
Liver pain is felt like a vague, dull pain in the right region of the abdomen. If it is serious, it may cause a backache and shooting pain in the right shoulder as well. A healthy liver plays a crucial role in fighting infections, enabling metabolism and cleansing the blood of poisonous substances. If the liver fails to function, it indicates a life-threatening situation.
Liver pain is the most common sign of any kind of liver disease. A severe condition of liver disease often goes unnoticed until it reaches the advanced stage, so one should take a liver pain seriously and get immediate medical attention.
Liver pain arises from different types of liver diseases that have been classified as follows:
Parasitic liver infections
Liver infections are triggered by liver flukes or blood flukes, types of worms that enter the body through food or water and contaminate the system.
As the name suggests, it is the accumulation of fat in the liver, which can be little to excess. A fatty liver is caused due to two reasons- alcohol and non-alcohol that can be due to obesity or being overweight.
Excess alcohol consumption can cause damage or inflammation of the liver. The victims are those who drink to the point where the liver fails to function any further.
Genetic Liver Issues
There are certain liver diseases that are inherited, such as Wilson’s disease, hemochromatosis, and hyperoxaluria. Such liver problems are associated with buildup of certain substances in the liver like copper for an example.
Cancers and tumors
Sometimes the liver suffers due to certain abnormal growth within it, which can be both benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous).
This is life-threatening since a liver Cirrhosis indicates the end stage of the liver condition. It is the scarring and destruction of the functioning tissues within the organ. The worst part is cirrhosis is irreversible and cannot be cured.
The liver plays the most significant function of detoxifying your body and flushing out all negative and waste substances. It breaks food and converts it to nutritional products required for your body. Therefore, when you have any kind of liver problem, it is usually accompanied by pain that also brings with it the following symptoms:
- Swelling of the legs and ankles
- Eyes turning white and skin turning to yellow
- Itchy skin
- Loss of appetite
- Dark urine color
- Abdominal swelling and pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Vomiting or nausea
- The tendency to get bruising easily
- Tar-coloured, bloody or pale-colored stool
Immune system abnormality
When the immunity system is affected by liver diseases, your health gets impacted. There are three types of autoimmune liver diseases- Primary biliary cirrhosis, Autoimmune hepatitis, Primary sclerosing cholangitis that show primary signs of liver pain.
The common liver infections are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. The infections in the form of bacteria and viruses enter the body and contaminate the semen or blood.
Cancer and other abnormal growths
The types of cancer linked to the liver include liver adenoma, liver cancer, and bile duct cancer. On the other hand, collections of fat in the liver and chronic alcohol abuse are the other common reasons for liver diseases.
Sometimes, having a family history of a liver disease is the biggest reason. If anyone or both of your parents have a liver problem, you may inherit the same. Genetic liver conditions include Wilson’s disease, Hemochromatosis, Hyperoxaluria, Oxalosis, Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency results in liver damages.
It should be noted that liver pain is triggered by the above-mentioned causes, although in most cases it involves other associated symptoms. There are certain risk factors that should be kept in mind that erupt liver diseases and pain. They include:
- Unprotected sex
- Heavy alcohol use
- Touch with other’s body fluids and blood
- Body piercings and tattoos
- Exposure to specific toxins or chemicals
- Using shared needles for injecting drugs
- If blood transfusions were done before 1992
The reasons for liver pain are varied, from chronic to genetic causes. Whatever the reasons, the condition should not be ignored and should be diagnosed at the first stage. An early detection of the underlying cause of liver pain ensures a well-defined treatment to prevent any future complication. There is a varying range of diagnostic procedures for liver pain:
The initial test performed by a doctor for a liver pain is a physical examination. It is done by a general physician by asking the patient to lie down. By pressing on the stomach and upper part of the abdomen and enquiring about your pain in details, the doctor can assess if the pain is mild or something serious that may require further testing.
A blood test reveals your alpha-fetoprotein and liver enzymes. The readings help the doctors determine the severity of the patient’s condition. For instance, higher levels of alpha-fetoprotein and liver enzymes detected in non-pregnant adults are alarming and indicate the possibility of liver cancer or other associated liver issues.
Doctors often recommend a bilirubin test in urine to determine the liver function. If the readings are abnormal, the doctor may prescribe for urine/blood tests, like a liver panel. The test enables to diagnose any liver disease.
CT scans, ultrasounds, MRIs
These types of tests help in assessing any kind of liver damage. They help in detecting the presence of cysts or tumors in the liver. It should be known that any kind of abnormal growth should not go unchecked and must be treated right away.
A special type of ultrasound test, called Transient elastography, is done for checking any fibrosis or scarring of the liver. In case of positive results, the patient is normally referred to a hepatologist or gastroenterologist for further evaluation.
Stereotactic Liver Biopsy/ Tissue analysis
A thin, long needle is inserted in through your body n the liver and a small piece of tissue is removed from the abnormal growth found within for examination. The tissue samples as collected are tested with the aid of radiographic imaging guidance test.
The type of treatment selected for you depends upon the diagnosis. A liver pain is linked to a number of reasons, so there is no need for a surgery since lifestyle modifications, medicines and continuous monitoring help to cure the disease. Here, have a look at the different types of treatments associated with a liver pain and related diseases.
After a drinking alcohol or having a heavy meal in the morning, if you experience liver pain then drink plenty of water. Try to maintain a straight posture while sitting. If the pain persists even after several hours, you should visit a doctor. If the pain is accompanied by bouts of dizziness, hallucinations, and nausea, then it is an emergency case and should be taken due care of immediately.
Many have the tendency to take over-the-counter medications in liver pain. For instance, acetaminophen is a common painkiller that is often taken to cease the pain. However, the medicine only worsens the situation since the function of the liver is to flush out toxins, but with the painkiller hurts the liver more and puts more burdens on its functions.
You should also avoid any other types of painkillers that could trigger a worse reaction. It is better off to check with a doctor who will prescribe you specific drugs to manage the condition and help you reduce the pain.
Changes in lifestyle and diet
Liver pain is caused by liver diseases. The type of treatment suggested for you depends upon the underlying cause. However, there are few things you can take care of right from your home to ensure that your liver is functioning well and there is no reason for pain. The initiative starts by addressing what you drink and eat.
A diet that is too low on proteins can have a significant bearing on the liver volume that decreases over the time. However, including those necessary proteins back to your diet helps in correction your liver damage to a great extent. Also, reducing or stopping alcohol intake helps a lot in tackling liver pain.
Do concentrate on other lifestyle changes, such as minimizing your cholesterol and losing weight. These are the two most instrumental defensive techniques in treating the underlying reason for liver pain. Following a proper exercise routine and modifying your diet enables to manage a non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Taking care of liver cancer
If the reason for your liver pain is liver cancer then the best way to treat is by stopping the spread of cancer. First, the doctor performs a thorough check up your liver and organs of your body by conducting a blood test to understand how far cancer in your liver has spread. Since liver cancer is most aggressive and spreads quickly, listen to your oncologist what he has to say regarding the spread of the disease.
If liver damage is caused due to reasons like acetaminophen, hepatitis or any other toxin exposure, cancer can be reversed with a liver transplant treatment option. The procedure, however, involves many rules and regulations that should e followed before getting the transplant successfully.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is the liver pain located and how does it feel like?
Liver pain is usually vague and dull and is felt in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, underneath the ribs.
It is, normally, felt in the region of your abdomen where the liver is but is the pain is severe then it can trigger a backache. It is also, sometimes, felt in the right shoulder as a shooting pain.
What is the reason for a liver pain?
There are several reasons for a liver pain. It can be caused by viruses or bacteria when the infection gets into the body and the liver finds it difficult to function. Other reasons like heavy alcohol use, certain medical conditions, and some medications also cause a liver pain. Hepatitis B, C, D result in cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer, and liver failure. The major symptom of these life-threatening diseases is the liver pain.
What are the initial symptoms of liver damage?
Abdominal pain, abnormal stools, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, joint pain, muscle pain, fever, etc.
How to ensure that your liver stays clean and there is no liver pain?
You can follow a few steps, such as eliminate any toxic food from your diet, include lots of vegetables and vegetable juice in your diet, take milk thistle and supplements, take liver tablets, etc. Drinking water is the best way of keeping the liver healthy and clean.
What are the symptoms associated with liver pain?
They include jaundice, weight loss, weakness, nausea, vomiting, discolored discharge from the body (light stools or dark urine), nausea, loss of energy, etc.