Enlarged Liver

1 What is Enlarged Liver?

Enlarged liver or hepatomegaly is often a sign of a liver problem. Enlarged liver is not considered a disease, but a sign of other health problems.

There are several causes of liver enlargement, like infection, problems in the heart, genetic conditions, and cancers in the blood or the liver itself.

Enlarged liver is often accompanied by other signs and symptoms.

The liver is the largest organ in the body and plays several vital functions. Any swelling or changes in liver size require evaluation to determine the cause.

2 Symptoms

In itself, enlarged liver may not present any symptoms at all. In some cases, there is a noticeable solid mass at upper right side of the abdomen.

Here are the symptoms that often accompany enlarged liver:

  • Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and the whites of eyes
  • Pain in upper right abdomen
  • Poor appetite
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Pain in muscles
  • Unexplained fatigue

You must see a doctor if you feel mass anywhere in the abdomen, or you have any of these mentioned symptoms.

3 Causes

Enlarged liver has several causes. The most common are the following:

  • Alcoholic liver disease, or liver problems caused by excess intake of alcohol. These problems include alcoholic fatty liver, alcoholic cirrhosis and alcoholic hepatitis
  • Viral hepatitis, like having infections by viruses responsible for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, hepatitis D and hepatitis E
  • Fatty liver disease caused by metabolic conditions or unhealthy lifestyle
  • Liver cancer, or tumors from other parts of the body that ended up in parts of the liver

The liver can become enlarged due to active diseases in the body.

Here are specific medical conditions that often cause enlarged liver:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Budd-Chiari syndrome, or blockage of veins that drain the tissues of the liver
  • Problems in the heart valves, like in tricuspid or mitral valves
  • Cancers like leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myelomas
  • Infections in the liver, like schistosomiasis and fascioliasis
  • Abscesses in the liver caused by infestation of parasites (amebiasis) or bacteria
  • Relapsing fever caused by infection with the bacteria Borrelia, which is spread by ticks or body lice
  • Toxicity or poisoning that damages the liver, often caused by medicines like acetaminophen (Tylenol), amoxicillin-clavulanate (Augmentin), and exposure to industrial chemicals such as carbon tetrachloride and chloroform.
  • Genetic conditions like hemochromatosis, Wilson’s disease, Gaucher’s disease and diseases affecting glycogen storage in the liver
  • Complex liver diseases such as amyloidosis, autoimmune hepatitis, primary biliary cirrhosis and primary sclerosing cholangitis

4 Making a Diagnosis

Making a diagnosis of enlarged liver is done by performing several tests.

Most patients with suspected liver problems start receiving care from a general practitioner. The doctor performs initial assessment and diagnostic tests, and if results strongly suggest a problem in the liver, may refer you to a specialist called a hepatologist.

You can do the following to prepare before the appointment:

  • Call your doctor in advance for any restrictions needed before the appointment. You may have to restrict diet or medications for certain lab tests.
  • Make a list of your symptoms and their onset. Also, make a list of medicines and supplements you take.
  • The doctor might ask you to detail any recent stresses or life changes.
  • If possible, take your spouse or family member with you to the appointment to help you remember all information.

You can also prepare a list of questions to ask your doctor.

Here are some good questions:

  • What is the connection between enlarged liver and my symptoms?
  • Is my condition caused by a problem in my liver or problem in other parts of the body?
  • Do I have other health problems
  • When will my condition improve? Will it last for a long time?
  • What tests do I need for my condition?
  • What are the choices of treatment for my condition?
  • What are the side effects of treatment?
  • Do I need to see a specialist?

During the appointment, your doctor may ask things like use of alcohol and drugs, sexual history and overseas travel and eating habits. You must answer these questions honestly so the doctor can make a correct diagnosis.

5 Treatment

Enlarged liver has a cause, which must be treated to address the condition. Therefore, treatment varies depending on your presentation and diagnosis.

For example, you may have to abstain from alcohol and lose weight if your liver enlargement is caused by alcoholic hepatitis.

If prescribed drugs cause your liver to swell, the doctor might reduce the dose or replace the drug with other alternatives that are safer to the liver.

6 Prevention

There are many ways to prevent occurrence of an Enlarged Liver, but most of these measures revolve around a healthy lifestyle.

Keeping your body healthy and fit, and avoiding illegal substances, reduces the risk of liver problems like liver enlargement.

Here are other ways to reduce risk of liver problems:

  • Stick to a healthy diet with lots of fresh fruits and veggies. High fat diet is a risk factor for fatty liver, which can cause liver enlargement
  • If you consume alcohol, control your drinking and exercise moderation at all times. Regardless of health benefits, alcohol is toxic to the liver so drink moderately. You can ask your doctor the amount of alcohol that is right for you.
  • Limit exposure to chemicals in aerosol cleaners, insecticides, and other toxic substances. Make sure to protect yourself by wearing gloves, long sleeves, and mask when using these substances.
  • Maintain your body weight to normal levels. Obesity is a risk factor for liver disease. Ask your doctor about the ideal weight for your age, and for ways to lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Follow instructions when taking medicines, vitamins or supplements to avoid overdose that could cause liver problems. Simply follow doctor’s prescription or stick to recommended dosage.
  • Be careful in using supplements. Many herbal substances in supplement brands, particularly those used for bodybuilding and losing weight can harm the liver. Examples include germander, chaparral, senna, mistletoe, comfrey, ma huang, valerian root, kava, celandine and green tea extracts. Most supplements do not mention the possible harm to the liver.

7 Risks and Complications

Your risk of having enlarged liver is increased if you are:

  • Taking medicinal herbs like mistletoe, comfrey, and ma huang, which can cause liver damage.
  • Taking large doses of medicines, supplements or vitamins. Many drugs, vitamins, and nutritional substances are metabolized by the liver, so taking too much can put your liver at risk
  • Alcohol abuse can damage the liver. Alcohol is known to be hepatotoxic or poisonous to the liver, especially if taken in high amounts.

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