It is unbelievable just how many people among us suffer from some form of liver disease or the other and they have no idea they are affected.
Most of the time, people with liver diseases, especially for those in the beginning stages, there may not be any outward symptoms. Sometimes the symptoms are quite common and so mild that we tend to ignore them. Some itching here and there on the body, a lack of drive, fatigue or excessive tiredness….we don’t look too closely to see what may be the actual cause of these symptoms.
The liver is a very resilient organ and it is capable of repairing and regenerating itself. The more obvious symptoms of liver disease may not be evident till most of your liver is seriously damaged, may be even 90% of it. Liver disease cases are often diagnosed and addressed too late – with fatal consequences.
1. Diabetes and the Liver
Diabetes and fatty liver are like the chicken and the egg causality dilemma. Who came first – the chicken or the egg?
Sometimes we find that a person with fatty liver has developed diabetes. In other cases, a diabetic person whose liver seemed fine previously, develops a fatty liver.
Did you know that diabetics are 50% more likely to develop liver disease? Particularly fatty liver disease. Even slim diabetics often have a fatty liver. Once you are diagnosed with both fatty liver and diabetes, you’d better get really serious about managing these metabolic disorders.
Though fatty liver disease by itself seems harmless, it raises your risk of developing liver inflammation or cirrhosis. It also increases the risk of liver cancer and heart disease.
If you have diabetes, please request your doctor for a thorough liver check up including an ultrasound examination of your liver. Even if everything seems fine, you must insist on regular follow-up blood tests to monitor your liver function.
It is most important that you keep an eye out for the following early warning signs of liver damage. Early detection is most vital as liver transplant surgery may be your only option if the liver gets too damaged.
2. Itchy Skin
Unexplained itching anywhere on your body, itching of palms and under the feet can be due to a variety of reasons, most probably some kind of allergy. But before you brush them off as an allergy problem, it will be wiser to just get your liver checked and ensure its fine. This is even more vital if your skin was not so sensitive before.
Itchy skin areas that progressively worsen and become more sensitive or easily inflamed if you scratch them can be an early sign of liver damage. Bile products deposited in the skin may cause intense itching.
There are many over the counter drugs that may help suppress these symptoms, but if you don’t treat the underlying conditions like an impaired immune system or a damaged liver, the diseases will worsen and the symptoms will come back with vengeance.
3. Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea is that sick feeling of wanting to vomit. Vomiting is the body’s mechanism to get rid of it’s stomach contents. Nausea and vomiting are caused by the reflexes in our guts and brain which act together. Most cases of such nausea and vomiting settle down within 48 hours.
If this happens too frequently or extends beyond 48 hours, it may be an indication of a serious underlying disease. Greenish vomit usually means there is bile in it unless you’ve eaten green coloured food just before the incident. Bringing up blood is also a sign you need to take seriously. The first thing you need to do is to get your urine and blood tested to rule out the possibility of liver damage.
4. Weakness and Fatigue
Weakness is a lack of physical strength while fatigue is a feeling of tiredness, exhaustion, or lack of energy. We all feel weak or tired at some point or the other. You may feel some level of fatigue because of overwork, poor sleep, worry, boredom, or lack of exercise.
But feelings of extreme tiredness or weakness that goes on for weeks can be a sign of liver damage. When the body is working hard to survive, it tries to ensure it gets as much rest as possible. If you suffer from fatigue and weakness in combination with any of the other signs of kidney damage, prompt medical attention is recommended.
Liver disease can occur when the concentration of certain chemicals in the blood builds up to toxic levels. Hepatitis C is an infectious disease that is contracted by blood to blood contact. But this disease can remain asymptomatic for up to 30 years after which liver cirrhosis and failure is diagnosed. It also increases the risk of liver cancer. One of the earliest indications is fatigue and weakness. But most people tend to disregard these symptoms as normal signs of aging.
5. Right shoulder pain
The liver is located in the upper right side of the abdomen. The liver may grow in size due to the accumulation of fat, acute inflammation or any other injury.
The sensitive membrane covering the liver may expand and stretch causing a dull, vague pain. It can also be quite severe sometimes. Sometimes people perceive it as pain in the right shoulder or as a backache.
6. Protruding Belly
If you are a thin person with a fat protruding belly, it’s best to get your liver checked out. You probably have a fatty liver irrespective of whether you are an alcoholic or not.
Belly fat and fatty liver can look exactly the same from the outside of the body. In some really thin people, you may be able to see that the belly looks slightly larger on the right side.
If you have a protruding belly and you have cramping or pain in the lower abdomen, it may also be an early indication of liver trouble. There may be bloating and a gassy sensation. If the liver problem gets worse, it can lead to ascites – a buildup of fluid within the abdominal wall. Too much fluid can apply pressure to the lungs making it difficult to breathe.
Just like other liver problems, liver cancer can also be symptomless, especially in the early stages. A swollen stomach is one of the early warning indications of this disease.
7. Yellowish Discoloration in the Eyes and Skin
When Bilirubin begins to accumulate under the skin, it can turn your skin yellow. You’ll probably notice them first on your fingernails, the whites of the eyes and the fingertips.
The liver produces bile, a yellowish brown fluid, which helps in the digestions of fats in our body. Bilirubin is one of the components of bile. The liver breaks down the hemoglobin in old red blood cells and converts them into bilirubin. The bile and the bilirubin in it are excreted from the body along with the faeces after their role in digestion. This is what gives faeces their characteristic yellow brown color.
Bile is stored in the gall bladder, from where it is released into the small intestine during digestion. It is natural to find some traces of bilirubin in the blood stream. When the liver is damaged, bilirubin may build up in the blood causing jaundice. The main symptom of jaundice is a yellowish discoloration of the white area of the eye and the skin.
Jaundice itself is not a disease, but rather a symptom of an underlying medical problem. It can be caused by a number of conditions, including an inflamed liver and an obstructed bile duct
Normal bilirubin test results are 1.2 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) of total bilirubin for adults, and usually 1 mg/dL for those under 18. Normal results for direct bilirubin are generally 0.3 mg/dL.
8. Darker Colored Urine
A urine test is one way of measuring how much bilirubin you have in your body.
Urine should be pale yellow in color. As you drink more water, urine can even become colorless. A dark yellow or orange colored urine may be due to the buildup of bilirubin in the body as a result of liver damage.
Bilirubin levels that are higher than 25 milligrams per deciliter can lead to serious illness.
9. Changes in Stool and Bowel Movements
While the rest of the body may or may not get more yellow due to disrupted bilirubin regulation, the stool turn pale, grey or clay colored instead of their usual yellowish brown color.
People suffering from liver damage may show symptoms similar to Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). They may experience abdominal pain, and frequent, sudden, and urgent need to pass bowel movements. They may also have alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea,
There are many things you can do to heal your liver whichever stage of liver disease you are at.
Remember the liver can regenerate itself. All you have to do is provide the necessary resources for it from your diet and lifestyle.
Stay tuned…our next article is on “How to Reverse Fatty Liver Naturally without Medication.”
With a Masters in Food Science and Nutrition, Tilottama has carved a niche for herself in the Health Writing Industry. She is passionate about helping her readers make informed decisions about the food they eat. She believes in the healing power of food and in food as medicine. Tilottama is an editor and writer at Fitnesshacks.org.