Liver dysfunction may result from a number of acute or chronic causes including infection, toxic exposure and medical conditions. Symptoms of liver disease may vary slightly depending upon the cause and length of the illness.
Thousands of people die in the United States each year from liver disorders and as the number of cases of chronic hepatitis rises each year, the number is climbing. Though up to 80 percent of cases of cirrhosis of the liver could be eliminated by stopping alcohol abuse, liver dysfunction can be caused by a number of diseases including infection, toxic exposure and medical conditions. Liver disease symptoms may vary depending upon the stage of the illness.
Symptoms of Acute Liver Dysfunction
Symptoms of acute liver failure may develop suddenly due to medical conditions such as hepatitis, exposure to environmental toxins, or damage from medication or other drug use. Some patients may exhibit acute liver failure from vascular disease which has cut off blood supply to the liver or from metabolic diseases such as Reye’s syndrome.
Acute liver dysfunction symptoms may include upper right abdominal tenderness and digestive disturbance such as nausea and vomiting or pale stool. Many report a general sense of malaise, difficulty concentrating, confusion and sleepiness due to excessively high levels of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin will also cause a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, along with darkened urine.
Symptoms of Chronic Liver Disease
Chronic symptoms of liver disorder result from long term damage to tissues of the liver causing cirrhosis or fibrosis or the development of scar tissue to replace normal liver cells. This damage can be caused by chronic infections of the liver such as hepatitis C, alcoholism, long term chemical exposure, metabolic diseases such as diabetes and genetic disorders such as hemochromatosis or congenital biliary cysts. Some symptoms of chronic liver dysfunction may be similar to those of acute liver failure including fatigue, abdominal tenderness from liver enlargement, and appetite changes. Jaundice or yellowing of the skin may occur, though not always present or noticeable as it develops over a long period of time.
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Chronic liver dysfunction may also result in a number of unique symptoms such as fluid buildup in the abdomen, known as ascites and men may notice shrinking testes and the development of breast tissue due to abnormal metabolism of hormones. Some may experience curling of the fingers, redness of the palms, hair loss and skin itching along with spider-like veins or small red spots known as nevi on the surfaces of the skin. Muscle loss and weight loss is also common due to the lack of appetite and lack of ability to metabolize certain foods. Some patients may go on to develop damage to the nerves along with kidney damage due to the overload of bilirubin in the blood.
End-Stage Liver Disease Symptoms
End-stage liver disease is the development of life threatening changes to the liver. This stage of the disease has a poor prognosis and carries symptoms of both acute and chronic liver failure along with other symptoms indicating widespread damage to the liver and other organs. Most patients will have an enlarged, tender liver which causes abdominal discomfort. The spleen may also become enlarged along with the development of a bone marrow disorder known as aplastic anemia. Both will contribute to an increased risk of bleeding.
Bleeding in the gastrointestinal system is common as the liver cannot filter blood appropriately, leading to the development of high blood pressures in the vessels surrounding the intestines in a condition known as portal hypertension. Encephalopathy, a brain disorder may result in changes in mental functioning and level of consciousness. It may progress to cerebral edema and hepatic coma. As indicated by the name, end-stage liver failure most often results in death unless liver transplant is achieved.