Liver Pain Symptoms

The liver is a vital organ that has many important functions, such as producing and breaking down hormone, producing amino acids and detoxifying toxic substances. When liver pain symptoms are experienced, one must seek medical consultation for proper diagnosis and treatment.

The liver is a vital organ that plays many important roles in the body. It is the largest gland in the human body and is responsible for several critical functions necessary for survival. The liver is triangular shaped, reddish brown in color, and weighs approximately 1½ kilograms. This large internal organ is located at the right upper quadrant of the abdomen, just below the right diaphragm. It lies to the right of the stomach, overlying the gallbladder.

The liver plays many vital roles to maintain health and prevent disease, such as:

  • Producing amino acids (building blocks of protein)
  • Performs various roles in carbohydrate metabolism (synthesis, breakdown, and storage)
  • Protein metabolism
  • Lipid (fat) metabolism
  • Fetal red blood cell production
  • Production of proteins for blood clotting
  • Production and secretion of bile, which emulsifies proteins
  • Detoxification of toxic substances like drugs
  • Hormone production and breakdown

What is Liver Pain?

The liver is covered by a thick capsule where many pain receptors lie. Pressure against this capsule is felt as liver pain, and this can occur when the liver is swollen or enlarged, when there is acute inflammation in the organ or any injury that causes an increase in pressure on the liver capsule. Liver pain is often felt in the upper right side of the abdomen under the lower ribs and may be characterized as a vague or dull pain.

Liver Pain Symptoms

It is often difficult to identify liver pain because it may occur as a dull aching pain that is experienced in the abdomen, often times in the upper right side. However, sometimes the character and location of the pain may vary, and the accompanying symptoms may be different from one person to another. Variations in liver pain include:

  • Dull aching or vague pain in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen
  • Sharp , stabbing pain
  • Abdominal pain accompanied by shoulder pain and/or back pain
  • Right-sided abdominal pain that increases when inhaling or coughing
  • Pain accompanied by difficulty in breathing

It may be difficult to identify or distinguish liver from other types of abdominal pain because it is often subtle and insidious. Many people ignore its initial symptoms until the pain is severe or other symptoms appear, such as:

  • Changes in the color of the skin (yellowing, also called jaundice)
  • Skin rashes, brown blemishes or spots
  • Skin itching
  • Yellowing of the eyes
  • Dark circles around the eyes
  • Excessive sweating
  • Strong body odor
  • Bad breath
  • Redness in the palms and soles, accompanied by inflammation and itch
  • Dark colored urine and pale or gray stools
  • Joint pains
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Swelling of the testicles
  • High fever
  • Rapid heart rate

Causes and Treatments of Liver Pain

Pain in the upper right side of the abdomen may be caused by conditions that affect the liver itself. The pain may be referred or felt as pain in the right shoulder. This type of liver pain may be due to:

  • Liver inflammation or chronic hepatitis
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Liver abscess
  • Cancer of the liver
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Infections causing enlargement of the liver and spleen
  • Liver toxicity
  • Alcoholic liver

Some conditions outside the liver can irritate or increase the pressure on the liver, causing liver pain, and these include:

  • Gallstone disease
  • Accumulation of fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Increased stomach acidity and inflammation (gastritis)
  • Right lower lung pneumonia
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

Most cases of liver pain related to liver disease are serious and life threatening. Some of these diseases have similar symptoms, such as liver pain, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), fatigue, loss of appetite, and unexplained weight loss. Immediate diagnosis and treatment should be done, because the liver is a vital organ, and disruption in its function may be serious and potentially fatal. Blood tests, liver function evaluation, and imaging studies may be necessary to make a proper diagnosis. In some cases, such as liver cancer, a liver biopsy may have to be taken.

The treatment of liver pain depends on the specific cause. Some conditions like chronic hepatitis, fatty liver disease, and infections need medical treatment consisting of appropriate drugs. In some cases, such as localized liver cancer, surgery might be considered. In serious, life-threatening cases, a liver transplant may help.


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