Liver disease is becoming more and more common. October is Liver Awareness Month, so we spoke to Dr. David Schwimmer – one of our Sarasota gastroenterologists – about what symptoms may indicate damage to the liver.
“Our bodies are wondrously efficient and effective, with organs working in unison to keep us functioning and active. The liver is a major player this system. It’s the largest gland and solid organ in our body, carrying out more than 500 essential functions including detoxifying our blood, synthesizing protein and the producing chemicals that help us digest food. Unfortunately, liver disease is exceedingly common. According to the CDC, approximately 4.5 million in the U.S. are currently diagnosed with liver disease (not to mention those living with undiagnosed liver illnesses). And the rates of liver disease internationally are steadily increasing. Chronic liver disease caused 1.32 million deaths globally in 2017, according to study published earlier this year in the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.
One reason for the prevalence of liver illness may be that symptoms are often minimal and can easily go unnoticed or be dismissed. That’s why it’s crucial for people to understand the importance of liver health and the warning signs of liver disease and failure.
Here are some symptoms that may be your liver telling you to get it checked out!
Jaundice: Jaundice describes the yellowish discoloration of the skin and the whites of the eyes. Urine also can turn unusually dark. The yellow color is caused by elevated level of bilirubin in the blood stream. Bilirubin a yellow-orange bile pigment which is created by a breakdown of red blood cells, and an increased level of bilirubin can be attributed to inflammation or other abnormalities of the liver. It’s crucial for people to recognize and seek treatment for this symptom, as jaundice is often the first and only sign of liver disease.
Abdominal Swelling/Fluid Retention: Ascites is the medical term for ﬂuid accumulating in the abdominal cavity. This distention of the stomach is often coupled with swelling of the ankles, weight gain and trouble breathing. While ascites can be caused by a variety of health issues, it’s commonly associated with liver scarring (also known as cirrhosis). Cirrhosis is a very serious medical issue where your healthy liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue, permanently injuring your liver and preventing it from working properly. Late-stage cirrhosis is life-threatening and the leading cause for liver transplant.
Nausea and vomiting: A common symptom of liver damage is nausea and vomiting, mainly attributed to toxins building up in the liver. Our livers have the extremely important job of filtering the blood coming from our digestive tract, before passing it to the rest of the body. It eliminates many toxins naturally present in our bodies, as well as the ones we eat or drink – like alcohol. When a damaged liver can’t properly dispel toxins in our bodies, this can trigger persistent vomiting. If you’re struggling with increased nausea, it’s time to give your doctor a call.
Discolored urine: Another indicator of potential liver damage is dark brown urine, often caused by a disorder such as acute hepatitis – a viral infection that causes liver inflammation and damage.
Grey/pale stool: If your stool is pale white/grey, this may be your body alerting you to an issue with your liver. Much of the waste our bodies create is eliminated by secretion into bile and removed via stool. Think of bile as the liver’s foot soldiers, carrying away waste from the liver and gallbladder and breaking down fats during digestion. During digestion, the liver releases bile salts into stool, which gives it a normal brown color. You may experience discolored stool when a liver infection reduces bile production or blocks its exit into the small intestine.
Itching: While itching (called pruritus) is a lesser-known symptom of liver disease, it could be an indication that you have an increased level of bile salt in your body. Bile salts are one of the primary components of bile, so an increased amount in system may indicate bile salt malabsorption and further liver disfunction.
Chronic fatigue: Feeling perpetually exhausted? Instead of reaching for another cup of coffee, ask your doctor if there’s something wrong with your liver. Fatigue is the one of the most common symptoms reported by patients with liver disease, although the medical community’s understanding of the cause and management of this symptom remains inconclusive. For now, all you need to know is – don’t ignore chronic fatigue! Your body may be warning you of a more serious illness.”