Pain receptors are absent in the liver. Aside from the abdomen, the back and shoulders may also experience referred pain from the liver. Sharp discomfort or breathing difficulties might be brought on by certain disorders.
When things hurt, we often get assistance. However, it may be challenging to identify the cause of discomfort and choose whether to consult a doctor when it involves the liver.
The majority of the time, liver discomfort is diffuse and not localised. This article will discuss how liver pain may feel, the several conditions that may result in liver pain, and what you should do if you think your liver may be malfunctioning.
What does liver pain feel like?
Your liver occupies more room on the right side of your abdomen than the left and is situated close to the bottom of your rib cage. The small intestine is on the right side of your belly, just above your small intestine, and your liver is immediately above your stomach.
Due to the variety of shapes that liver discomfort may take, diagnosing it can be challenging. Additionally, because your liver doesn't really have any pain-sensing neurons, discomfort is often brought on by inflammation or injury to the tissues around it.
More than 80% of persons with cirrhosis, a disorder in which the liver becomes scarred, report experiencing pain, which is often characterised as dull or throbbing. Although cirrhosis patients often complain of abdominal pain, they may also have discomfort in their backs, shoulders, and major joints.
Referred pain, in which discomfort is felt somewhere other than where the real issue is, may be caused by liver illness. Most often, discomfort from the liver is transferred to the shoulders and neck.
Inflammation caused by liver illness may also spread throughout the body, resulting in a general uneasy sensation. Sharp discomfort or even breathing difficulties may result from ascites, an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen brought on by the liver illness.
What does the liver do?
The liver, which weighs around 3 pounds, is the biggest solid organ in your body. Your body uses it as a significant filter to get rid of pollutants and toxic chemicals while maintaining a healthy metabolism.
In addition to producing and storing proteins like albumin, a vital protein that controls blood volume and fluid balance in your body, the liver also generates bile, a digestive fluid.
In addition, your liver also stores and manages:
- proteins that help to clot (platelets)
- proteins and substances that help with immune function
- fat-soluble vitamins
- extra blood sugar that’s transformed into long-term glycogen
You'll have issues like toxins building up, uncontrolled bleeding from poor blood coagulation, and more infections if your liver isn't working correctly.
What causes liver pain?
Pain in the liver may be an indication of issues elsewhere in the body or with the liver itself. The following conditions may directly impact the liver and cause pain:
- excessive alcohol consumption
- hepatitis, or liver inflammation
- nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- Reye’s syndrome, which causes liver and brain swelling
- hemochromatosis, the buildup of too much iron
- liver cancer
- Budd-Chiari syndrome, in which veins from the liver are blocked
- Wilson’s disease, which causes the buildup of too much copper
- portal vein thrombosis, in which the vein to the liver is blocked or narrowed
- a liver abscess, or pocket of infection
- liver cysts, or sac-like growths
- liver trauma or injury
Other regions of the body might experience discomfort when the liver is damaged. Since the liver lacks pain receptors, nearby tissues as well as other parts of the body, such as the neck and shoulders, may experience discomfort.
Given that liver illness often causes peritoneal discomfort, many individuals find it challenging to localise the pain. The abdominal wall and its internal organs are lined by this membrane.
One example of a complex illness that may damage the liver and result in widespread abdominal discomfort is the Fitz Hugh Curtis syndrome.
This uncommon disorder, which mostly affects women, may result from pelvic inflammatory disease. The peritoneum and the tissues around the liver are also impacted. The upper right region of the abdomen, the shoulder, and the right arm are often where people with this illness experience abrupt, acute pain.
Other symptoms of liver problems
You may suffer other symptoms in addition to pain if you have liver disease. If your liver isn't functioning properly, you'll have a variety of issues since it creates, stores, and filters out poisons.
Following are a few liver disease symptoms that don't include pain:
- yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes (jaundice)
- dark-coloured urine
- swelling in the ankles or legs
- itchy skin
- loss of appetite
What are the risk factors for liver issues?
One of the biggest risk factors for liver disease is alcohol usage. All types of hazardous chemicals that pass through your body are filtered by the liver. This covers things like pharmaceutical side effects, alcohol, and food byproducts.
By taking steps like these, you may reduce your chance of getting liver disease:
- avoiding taking too many medications
- drinking alcohol conservatively
- avoiding harmful chemicals and pesticides
- avoiding sharing needles
- using caution when getting tattoos or piercings and making sure single-use tools are used
- eating a balanced diet
- exercising regularly
Additionally, a lot of illnesses may harm the liver, therefore it's a good idea to be vaccinated whenever feasible against conditions like hepatitis A and B viruses. Additionally, you have to get screenings for diabetes, liver cancer, and hepatitis C.
When should you see a doctor?
It might be difficult to recognise the early symptoms of liver disease. The most prevalent first symptom is fatigue, which has several medical diseases and lifestyle variables associated with it.
The presence of liver disease is sometimes not recognised until you start experiencing later-stage symptoms including easy bruising, jaundice, itching, or stomach discomfort. If you encounter any of the symptoms listed below, you may be suffering from acute liver failure and should get medical attention right away:
- bleeding that doesn’t stop
- vomiting or coughing up blood
- very yellow eyes or skin
- discomfort or pain on the right side of your abdomen
- a swollen belly from fluid buildup
How is liver pain diagnosed?
Being honest with your doctor about all of the drugs you take, what you eat, and how much alcohol you consume is the most crucial step in safeguarding the health of your liver. All of these things may affect your likelihood of acquiring the liver disease.
If you're making decisions that might harm your liver health, speak with a doctor so you can obtain support, as well as the proper immunizations and tests.
Your doctor may want to schedule routine visits with you for a complete physical examination and blood testing if you have a family history of liver issues or are at risk of developing liver disease. The following examples of tests for liver disease are possible:
- a visual examination for abdominal swelling or inflammation
- checking the skin and eyes for jaundice
- liver function tests
- CT scans
- liver biopsy
You may need special testing and supervision from a gastroenterologist, a medical expert in disorders of the liver and digestive system.
Transient elastography, which measures the stiffness of your liver and looks for cirrhotic scarring, is one test that particularly examines the liver.
How is liver pain treated?
The cause of your liver discomfort will determine how it is addressed. The following natural therapies might be helpful if your liver discomfort is caused by temporary issues with your diet or alcohol consumption:
- drinking more water
- avoiding alcohol
- steering clear of fatty foods
- checking your posture and sitting up straight to take pressure off your liver
- consuming enough protein
- watching your cholesterol
Call a doctor if your symptoms last for many hours or days. You could need more medical care. The liver is able to mend itself, therefore early intervention and lifestyle modifications may enable you to reverse some liver damage.
To cure your liver discomfort, stay away from using ibuprofen or acetaminophen over the counter. These drugs might worsen your discomfort and your liver's general health since they are metabolised by the liver.
The majority of the time, a doctor will recommend a routine that includes a healthy diet, regular exercise, and drugs for certain liver issues. These drugs may consist of:
- antiviral medications like lamivudine (Epivir) and adefovir (Hepsera), which can be used for treating chronic liver infections, for hepatitis B
- ledipasvir/sofosbuvir (Harvoni) for hepatitis C
- lactulose to lower ammonia levels
- rifaximin to prevent ammonia buildup
Although it's not one of the most well-known organs, the liver is one of the most crucial. The liver serves several important roles, such as filtering your blood and preventing infection.
Although your liver doesn't contain pain cells, liver-related issues may lead to pain or discomfort elsewhere, often throughout the abdomen.
Make an appointment to visit a doctor if you have persistent shoulder pain, upper right abdominal pain, or other general abdominal discomforts. If you detect and make modifications for liver illness early on, you have a high chance of recovering from it.