Common Characteristics of Liver Disease
What are some common liver disease symptoms?
When diagnosing liver disease, the healthcare provider looks at the patient's symptoms
and conducts a physical exam. In addition, the healthcare provider may ask for a liver
biopsy, liver function tests, an ultrasound, a computed tomography (CT) scan, and/or
a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.
Some common liver disease symptoms include the following, each of which are described
What is jaundice?
Jaundice is a yellow discoloration of the skin and whites of the eyes due to abnormally
high levels of bilirubin (bile pigment) in the bloodstream. Urine is usually dark
because of the bilirubin excreted through the kidneys. High levels of bilirubin may
be attributed to inflammation, or other abnormalities of the liver cells, or blockage
of the bile ducts. Sometimes, jaundice is caused by the breakdown of a large number
of red blood cells. This can happen in newborns. Jaundice is usually the first sign,
and sometimes the only sign, of liver disease.
What is cholestasis?
Cholestasis means any condition in which bile flow is reduced or stopped. "Chole"
refers to bile and "stasis" means "not moving." Bile flow may be blocked inside the
liver, outside the liver, or in both places. Symptoms may include:
Some causes of cholestasis include the following:
Alcoholic liver disease
Primary biliary cirrhosis
Hormonal changes during pregnancy
A stone in the bile duct
Bile duct narrowing
Bile duct cancer
Inflammation of the pancreas
What is liver enlargement?
Liver enlargement is usually an indicator of liver disease, although there are usually
no symptoms associated with a slightly enlarged liver (hepatomegaly). Symptoms of
a grossly enlarged liver include abdominal discomfort or "feeling full."
What is portal hypertension?
Portal hypertension is high blood pressure in the portal vein, which supplies the
liver with blood from the intestine and spleen. Portal hypertension may be due to
increased blood pressure in the portal blood vessels, or resistance to blood flow
through the liver. Portal hypertension can lead to the growth of new blood vessels
(called collaterals) that connect blood flow from the intestine to the general circulation,
bypassing the liver. When this happens, substances that are normally removed by the
liver pass into the general circulation. Symptoms of portal hypertension may include:
What are esophageal varices?
Esophageal varices are dilated blood vessels within the walls of the lower part of
the esophagus that are prone to bleeding. They can appear in people with severe liver
disease. A diseased liver can cause portal hypertension. This is high blood pressure
in the portal vein. The portal vein supplies the liver with blood. Over time, this
pressure causes blood vessels to grow, called collateral blood vessels. These vessels
act as channels to divert the blood under high pressure. The extra pressure in these
vessels causes them to dilate and become tortuous. These vessels can eventually reach
the lower esophagus and stomach. They are prone to rupture. The rupture can lead to
significant blood loss from vomiting or from lost blood passing through the gastrointestinal
tract. Symptoms of esophageal varices may include:
Painless vomiting of blood
Black, tarry or bloody stools
Decreased urine output
Anemia. A condition that indicates a low red blood cell count.
What is ascites?
Ascites is fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity caused by fluid leaks from the surface
of the liver and intestine. Ascites due to liver disease usually accompanies other
liver disease characteristics, such as portal hypertension. Symptoms of ascites may
include a distended abdominal cavity. This causes discomfort and shortness of breath.
Causes of ascites may include the following:
Ascites can also be caused by nonliver disorders.
What is hepatic encephalopathy?
Hepatic encephalopathy is the deterioration of brain function and damage to the nervous
system. This is because of toxic substances building up in the blood, which are normally
removed by the liver. Liver encephalopathy is also called portal-systemic encephalopathy,
hepatic encephalopathy, or hepatic coma. Symptoms may include:
Changes in logical thinking, personality, and behavior
Sluggish speech and movement
Loss of consciousness
Muscle stiffness or tremors
What is liver failure?
Liver failure is severe deterioration of liver function. Liver failure happens when
a large portion of the liver is damaged due to any type of liver disorder. Symptoms