Inflammation, infection or damage caused by toxins or other physical or chemical changes can damage the liver and impair its normal functioning. Because the liver is responsible for so many functions in the human body--including filtering the blood, processing cholesterol, metabolizing toxins and aiding digestion--the effects of decreased liver function may be widespread. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact a health care professional.
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Jaundice is a condition caused by excessive amounts of bilirubin (a pigmented waste product of old red blood cells) in the bloodstream. The main symptoms of jaundice are an abnormal yellow pigmentation of the skin and whites of the eyes. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), jaundice is often the first and only sign of liver disease.
Cholestasis is a condition that occurs when the flow of bile (the digestive fluid produced by the liver) stops because of a blockage inside or outside of the liver. According to UMMC, symptoms of cholestasis include jaundice, dark urine, pale stool, easy bleeding, itching, chills, fluid in the abdominal cavity, the emergence of spider-like blood vessels on the skin, an enlarged spleen and gallbladder and bone loss.
Decreased liver function can cause a number of complications that affect the abdomen. A diseased liver may become enlarged, leading to a generalized sensation of abdominal discomfort or “feeling full.” The liver may also develop vascular problems that affect blood flow, leading to a condition called portal hypertension--high blood pressure in the portal vein that brings in blood from the intestine to the liver. Symptoms of portal hypertension include ascites (accumulation of fluid in the abdomen), gastrointestinal bleeding and black, tarry stools. Portal hypertension may force the liver to develop collateral vessels (varices) to reroute the blood. These varices are often weak and may bleed easily and because the blood is bypassing the liver, it is not being properly filtered.
Liver Encephalopathy Symptoms
When the liver fails to filter blood normally and remove harmful substances from the bloodstream, toxins can build up and travel to the brain, leading to a condition called liver encephalopathy. Symptoms of liver encephalopathy include confusion, impaired consciousness, changes in cognitive function (thinking, decision-making, memory), mood changes, impaired judgment, disorientation, sluggish speech and movement, drowsiness and coma. This condition can be life-threatening, so seek prompt medical care if any of these symptoms develop.
Liver failure occurs when a large number of liver cells are damaged and no longer able to function at all. According to the Mayo Clinic, liver failure may come on suddenly, but more commonly occurs after years of progressively decreasing functioning. Common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, easy bleeding, abdominal fullness or tenderness, brain symptoms like those associated with liver encephalopathy, and jaundice. Liver failure is a medical emergency, so if you experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical care.