All organs in the body undergo some degree of strain and some point in our lives. This could be due to diseases, lifestyle factors, dietary choices or even psychological stress. Some organs are more prone than others to be come easily disrupted by what we eat or drink even when we are in overall good health. The liver is one such organ that most of us are concerned about because it is constantly processing wastes and toxins produced within the body as well as those substances that we consume as food, beverages and medicines.
How To Spot An Unhealthy Liver?
Despite the liver being extremely resilient and having the ability to regenerate to some degree, it is not infallible. This versatile organ carries out a host of different functions that keeps us alive. It has a remarkable ability to work beyond its normal capacity but there comes point when the liver can no longer manage even in the absence of liver disease. Straining the liver in this way is not uncommon in modern life, especially where lifestyle habit like alcohol consumption and dietary choices leading to obesity is common place.
The liver like most organs may not present with any symptoms when it is initially strained. Even in the early stages of liver diseases a person may not be symptomatic. Sometimes a liver problem may be identified during routine tests for other reasons. However, once liver problems reach a certain point there are symptoms that indicates the disturbances or diseases. These symptoms may not always be specific for the liver and diagnostic investigations may still be necessary to confirm whether the symptoms are due to the liver or some related organ.
Liver pain which is often felt on the right side of the upper abdomen as well as the upper middle area of the abdomen may or may not be present depending on the type of liver problem and severity of the condition. Look out for the following signs and symptoms instead.
Jaundice is probably the most common and specific symptom for liver problems. However, it can occur with bile duct, gallbladder and certain blood diseases even when the liver is healthy. Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin, mucous membranes like the white of the eyes and inside of the mouth due to an accumulation of bilirubin. This substance, bilirubin, is a byproduct of red blood cell breakdown which is constantly occurring in the body as red blood cells are replaced. Bilirubin is normally excreted from the body with bile.
Itchy skin is a common symptom of many conditions and not specific for liver problems. Since the liver cannot detoxify the body, the accumulated toxins and wastes trigger itching of the skin. Unlike skin diseases with a rash, the itching with a liver problem is not isolated to one part of the body. Instead it is experienced throughout most of the body. This is known as generlized pruritus (pruritus is the medical term for itching). Depending on the underlying condition, it can also be linked with kidney problems.
Another symptom seen with liver problems where bile production or bile excretion is impaired is pale stools. A form of bilirubin known as stercobilin gives stool its characteristic brown color. Without bile in the stool, it does not have its typically strong brown color. Therefore it appear very pale in color and sometimes almost white. The excess bilirubin in the bloodstream may still be excreted by the kidneys and as a result the urine will appear darker than normal.
Read more on pale stools.
Nausea is a common non-specific symptom for conditions affecting the digestive organs. The exact reason for nausea is not always understood but it tends to occur with irritation of the gut lining or when there chemical abnormalities in the bloodstream. The latter applies to liver diseases where the liver is unable to process nutrients, wastes and toxins as it normally would. These chemicals in the bloodstream may then directly and indirectly trigger the nausea centers in the brain. Depending on the severity, the nausea may also lead to vomiting.
One of the primary functions of the liver is to process and assimilate nutrients. When this cannot be done properly weight loss may occur. The nausea may also contribute to a loss of appetite which can further contribute to weight loss. This weight loss is unintentional and may occur even in people who are eating a normal diet with sufficient calories to prevent it. Unintentional weight loss can be due to a host of different causes, from thyroid problems to cancer, and on its own may not be indicative of liver problems. It should be correlated with other symptoms.
Diarrhea and Fatty Stools
Chronic diarrhea may sometimes occur with persistent liver problems. It is more likely to occur when there is a problem with bile excretion. Apart from being carrier of wastes, bile also emulsifies fats in the bowels so that it can be more easily digested. If this does not occur the undigested fats irritates the gut and leads to diarrhea. In addition there are fatty or greasy stools which often has an offensive odor. This is known as steatorhhea.
Read more on fatty stool.
Abdominal swelling is often a late feature of liver problems and may be due to other conditions that arose with the underlying liver diseases. It is due to fluid accumulation with the abdomen and this is known as ascites. However, ascites is not specific to liver problems and can occur with a host of other conditions. The distension of the abdomen is usually visible and during physical examination by a medical professional it may be possible to hear the excessive fluid move in the abdominal cavity.
What to do for liver problems?
A liver problem needs to be confirmed by a medical professional if suspected. This often involves diagnostic investigations ranging from blood tests like the liver function test (LFT) to imaging studies such as an abdominal ultrasound. However, if a liver problem is suspected then a few simple dietary and lifestyle changes can be helpful until medical treatment is commenced.
- Stop alcohol consumption altogether. Even one drink can strain a diseased liver.
- Do not use any medication that has not been prescribed by a medical professional.
- Discontinue all nutritional supplements (vitamins and minerals) unless otherwise advised by a doctor.
- Eat a healthy balanced diet of unrefined foods that is freshly prepared at home.
- Limit the intake of refined carbohydrates like sugar, fats and large amounts of protein.
- Avoid preserved foods such as pickles and canned goods.