Liver Damage and Liver Failure – Symptoms and Signs


Liver damage refers to impaired liver structure (liver cells, vessels, biliary ducts) due to any cause. A mild liver damage, like in fatty liver, may cause only little impairment of liver function and no or few symptoms, while severe liver damage may lead to life threatening liver failure.

Symptoms and Signs of Mild to Moderate Liver Damage

Symptoms of liver damage may include:

  • Dull pain or feeling of fullness in the upper right abdomen, below the rib cage
  • Poor appetite, fatigue, nausea, vomiting
  • Low grade fever
  • Pale stool or white diarrhea – loose, foul smelling bowel movements that may float and stick to the toilet
  • Jaundice
  • Abdominal swelling

Signs (as noted by a doctor during body examination) of liver damage may include:

  • Enlarged liver, detected by palpation
  • Yellow discoloration of the eye (sclera) and skin
  • Abdominal distension due to water retention
  • Spider nevi – small (few mm) spider-like red veins on the upper body or face

Symptoms and Signs of Liver Failure

Liver failure refers to a serious deterioration of a liver function. Liver failure may develop in few days after paracetamol (Tylenol), cocaine or ecstasy overdose, poisoning, etc., or within several months in cirrhosis, viral hepatitis, etc. Symptoms of liver failure (apart from those listed above) may include:

  • Drowsiness or impaired consciousness, even coma
  • Tremor (fine shakiness of hands) or muscle stiffness
  • Sweet-smelling (acetone) breath
  • Easy bruising due to impaired synthesis of coagulation factors in liver
  • Vomiting blood from ruptured esophageal varices

Diagnosis of liver damage and liver failure may be done by various blood tests, including liver (hepatic) panel.

Prognosis of liver failure depends on the underlying cause – it may be bad in alcoholic cirrhosis but full recovery is possible after certain poisoning.

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