The liver is the largest organ in the abdominal cavity. Located predominantly in the upper right quadrant, of the abdomen, the liver performs over 400 different processes that sustain a healthy body. When exposed to disease, the liver can enlarge, a condition referred to as hepatomegaly. Treatment for this condition varies and depends upon the underlying cause, according to the University of Southern California Department of Surgery.
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The liver performs a variety of functions, but most importantly it removes toxic wastes from the blood and excretes them in the stool. It stores a form of glucose used to produce energy, and stores vitamins A, D, K and B12, as well as the minerals iron and copper. The liver produces bile, a substance used to breakdown fats ingested from food. The liver produces the components to clot blood, a process imperative to stop bleeding. It produces bilirubin, a substance synthesized from the breakdown of hemoglobin, a component of red blood cells. Lastly, the liver processes ingested carbohydrates, proteins and fats into smaller components used cellular function, according to Brown University.
The liver works in conjunction with other organs, so disorders that affect other organs of the body also affect the liver. Diseases associated with an enlarged liver include hepatitis, fructose intolerance, mononucleosis, congestive heart failure, alcoholism, glycogen storage disease, liver cancer, leukemia, Niemann-Pick disease, biliary cirrhosis, neuroblastoma, Reye syndrome, steatosis, sarcoidosis and sclerosing cholangitis, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Signs and Symptoms
An enlarged, dysfunctional liver will present with yellowing of the skin, nausea, vomiting, pale-colored stool and fever. A normal liver is slightly palpable along the bottom of the rib cage in the upper right portion of the abdomen. An enlarged liver, however, is felt to a greater extent, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
An enlarged liver is diagnosed by an abdominal x-ray, ultrasound or CT scan, in addition to a blood test to measure liver function, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Treatment will vary according to the underlying cause of hepatomegaly. For example, if cirrhosis is present, lifestyle and diet changes are recommended. Avoid drinking alcohol or eating salt; consult a physician before taking any type of medication or supplement since the diseased liver may not be able to process such substances. Leukemia is treated with chemotherapy. Inflammatory diseases such as sarcoidosis are treated with corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. Overall, the goal of hepatomegaly treatment is to address the underlying pathology to reduce the inflammation of the liver, therefore restoring normal liver size, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.