When one feels liver pain, it is likely a sign of some disease. While the liver itself does not contain any nerve cells, and thus cannot actually feel pain, the capsule surrounding it does. When the liver is enlarged or stretches the capsule in any way, one can feel pain that emanates from the area of the liver. Stretching can be caused by a growth such as a tumor. It can also be caused by inflammation caused by hepatitis. Any liver pain should be checked out by a doctor.
The liver has pain receptors that are on the surface of the organ. When there is pressure on the surface, your body feels pain. Many times, the pain can be from swelling or the enlargement of the liver. Other times, the surrounding organs, such as the lungs or gallbladder, can be the culprit, and the pressure is transferred to the surface of the nearby liver. The body then perceives this as pain emanating from the liver. Pain from the liver is felt in the upper right portion of your abdomen, directly below your ribs.
Gastrointestinal Symptoms Associated With Liver Pain
Below are some gastrointestinal symptoms that are commonly associated with pain in the liver.
- Abdominal swelling
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pale or grey stools
Other Symptoms Associated With Liver Pain
In addition to gastrointestinal symptoms, there are also other symptoms associated with liver ailments that may go overlooked. It is important to be aware of other symptoms, especially if they are accompanied by the gastrointestinal symptoms, because they can indicate a larger medical problem. These symptoms include:
- Discolored urine
- Fever and chills
- Itchy skin
- Joint pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes
When to Seek Emergency Care
It is recommended that you seek emergency care if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Change in your mental status; confusion, delirium, delusions
- Fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit
- Rapid heart rate
- Breathing problems
- Severe pain
So What Is Causing the Pain?
If you have liver pain and you experience the above symptoms, it is important to seek out medical attention for treatments for liver pain. Below are seven of the most common diseases and ailments that could be the culprit causing your liver pain. Many, you will see, are compound complications of other more serious diseases.
Chronic hepatitis is defined as inflammation of the liver that lasts for 6 months or longer. The usual cause of prolonged liver inflammation can be from hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or from side effects caused by certain drugs. The prolonged inflammation of the liver can lead to cirrhosis, an enlarged spleen, or an accumulation of liquids in the abdomen. All of these conditions put pressure on the liver which in turn, causes pain.
The most common medications to cause inflammation of the liver are isoniazid, methyldopa, and nitrofurantoin. If these are found to be the cause for chronic hepatitis, then the medication is stopped immediately. If chronic hepatitis is caused by the hepatitis virus, usually a course of treatment with anti-viral drugs that lasts between 12-48 weeks is administered.
Fatty Liver Disease
This is a very common disorder which results from people having too much excess fat accumulated in the liver. The people diagnosed with fatty liver disease often consume very little, if any alcohol. Some people, especially children, report abdominal pain in the upper right section of the body. The liver may be slightly enlarged from fatty liver disease, causing increased pressure, which signals a pain response from the body. This disease is common with patients with diabetes, but can also be caused by oxidative stress, or the production and release of inflammatory proteins into the body.
Treatment for fatty liver disease usually include weight loss, exercise, and an improved diet. However, in some cases, lipid lowering medications and insulin medication is required to diminish the effects of fatty liver disease.
A liver abscess is a pus filled mass that is inside the liver and is usually the result of an abdominal infection. The abscess can form on the surface of the liver, thus providing the source of pain.
Bacterial infections account for 80% of all liver abscesses. The infection can be caused from ailments such as appendicitis or diverticulitis. Symptoms include abdominal pain, a cough, dark colored urine, fever or chills and a loss of appetite. Usually, this can be cured with antibiotics, or in more extreme cases, a combination of medication and surgery to drain the abscess.
While this can be a rather routine medical condition, if left untreated, the abscess can burst and spread the infection. This can lead to sepsis, a very serious and life threatening bacterial blood infection.
Liver cancer is defined as cancer that begins to form in the liver cells themselves. (This differs from a cancer that may have originated elsewhere in the body, such as the prostate, and migrated to the liver.) The most common form of cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma.
Unfortunately, the early stages of liver cancer do not have many symptoms. Eventually, you can experience upper abdominal pain, abdominal swelling, nausea, loss of appetite, and unexplained weight loss. Your risk for liver cancer is increased with diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and obesity, as well as cirrhosis and excessive alcohol consumption.
Treatment for liver cancer varies by the severity of the illness and the extent of the cancer. Sometimes surgery to remove the cancerous portion of the liver is prescribed. Other times targeted chemotherapy is recommended or radiation treatment. In extreme cases, a liver transplant may be necessary.
Ascites is when fluid builds up in the abdomen and usually occurs when the liver stops working correctly. Excess fluids fill the space between the lining of the abdomen and the organs which puts pressure on the liver causing pain. The main reason ascites occurs is from scarring on the liver. Scarring can be an underlying side effect of cirrhosis, hepatitis B or C, or from a history of alcohol abuse.
The main symptoms for ascites include abdominal pain in the upper right portion of the abdomen, nausea, heartburn, difficulty breathing and a swollen abdomen. Often, treatment can be in the form of diuretics which increase the amount of salt and water leaving the body, thus decreasing pressure within the veins around the liver.
Another common solution is a procedure called Paracentesis. This is a procedure in which a long needle is inserted into the liver to extract the extra fluid. In the most extreme cases a permanent shunt can be implanted to reroute the fluids around the liver.
The gallbladder is located in close proximity to the liver, and because the surface of the liver can be irritated by the enlarged gallbladder, pain appears to come from the liver area. Gallstones are formed from extra cholesterol in the body. The excess cholesterol creates a crystalline form that resembles a small pebble.
Gallstones can be caused by several factors such as obesity, poor diet, and decreased movement of the gallbladder, but can also simply be genetic. Symptoms of gallstones include abdominal pain in the upper right portion of the abdomen under the ribs, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, bloating, gas, and heartburn.
Usually to treat gallstones, a minimally invasive surgery called laparoscopic cholecystectomy is performed. This involves making a very small incision in the abdomen to remove the gallbladder.
Because liver pain is felt when the nerves on the surface of the liver are irritated, pneumonia can be causing your liver pain, especially if the lower, right portion of the lung is affected. This is the part of the lung that is directly on top of the liver. Pneumonia occurs when the lung becomes infected from either bacteria or a virus that is breathed into the lung. This usually occurs after you have a cold or flu.
Symptoms include a cough, chest pain that is worsened by coughing, fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, and a fever. If your pneumonia is caused by a bacterial infection, you are usually prescribed a round of antibiotics. If the pneumonia is viral, the best remedy is rest until the virus has run its course. In some cases, an auxiliary antibiotic may be prescribed to prevent any complications from the viral infection.
Typically, the pneumonia will be cured in about two to three weeks. It is important to note though, that for babies, older adults, or those with an already compromised immune system, pneumonia can be incredibly serious and can take much longer to clear up.
Trust your body and know the signs of serious disease and illness. Liver pain can be a sign of something very serious in your body, so it is always important to seek medical attention for treatments for liver pain. As detailed, there can be larger implications of liver pain because often, it can be a symptom of something much larger.