Your liver: An owner's guide

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Liver problems: Common problems and how to avoid them

Liver problems can be prevented. Learn about liver problems and symptoms of liver problems.

Your liver is located just under your rib cage on the right side of your abdomen, it's about the size of a football, weighs 3 to 4 pounds and performs hundreds of vital functions. Without it, you couldn't digest food and absorb nutrients, get rid of toxic substances from your body or stay alive.

Serious complications can arise if you develop liver problems. Some liver problems can't be prevented, such as those that are inherited, but you can take an active role in preventing other liver problems. Learn to identify symptoms of liver problems and how to avoid them.

Liver problems: What can go wrong

Your liver is very resilient in the face of liver problems. It can remain functional after losing most of its cells to disease. It can regenerate in a few weeks — even after much of it has been removed during surgery.

But your liver isn't indestructible — liver problems are possible. Excessive alcohol consumption over many years is a leading cause of liver disease. Too much alcohol can make a normal liver swell with fat, causing a condition called fatty liver. If the fat becomes inflamed, it can lead to either alcoholic hepatitis, a liver problem that causes serious but often reversible liver damage, or cirrhosis, which causes irreversible liver damage. Because of extensive scarring, a cirrhotic liver shrinks to a fraction of its normal size.

Viral hepatitis can lead to serious liver problems and is the most common type of liver disease. Hepatitis causes inflammation of the liver. The three types of hepatitis viruses — hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C — can all be prevented.

Liver problems

Image of liver problems showing normal and diseased livers

Liver problems that can occur include fatty liver disease and cirrhosis. The liver and its cells — as seen through a microscope — change dramatically when a normal liver becomes fatty or cirrhotic.

Signs and symptoms of liver problems: What to watch for

Signs and symptoms of liver problems include:

  • Discolored skin and eyes that appear yellowish
  • Abdominal pain and swelling
  • Itchy skin that doesn't seem to go away
  • Dark urine color
  • Pale stool color
  • Bloody or tar-colored stool
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite

To keep your liver healthy and avoid any potential liver problems, see your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that concern you.

Last Updated: 02/26/2007
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