What are the symptoms of liver disease?

Dr. Audrey K. Chun, MD
Geriatric Medicine Specialist
Although most patients with liver disease have no specific symptoms, when they do occur, they can include a dull ache under the rib cage on the right side, yellowing of the eyes or skin (jaundice) and swelling in the abdomen. If you experience any of these, report it to your doctor right away.
Each patient’s liver disease can develop differently. Some symptoms of deteriorating liver function are fatigue, forgetfulness or mental confusion, loss of consciousness (coma), sleep reversal (inability to sleep at night, but wanting to sleep all day), ascites (fluid in the abdomen), spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (infection of the ascetic fluid), edema (swelling of the legs), bleeding gums, vomiting of blood, bleeding from rectum or passing black stools (from internal bleeding), itching of the skin, enlarged breasts in males, jaundice or “liver spots (spider angiomata and petechiae).

Most of the time, people with liver disease have no symptoms. Liver disease is usually picked up during routine blood work in their primary care doctor’s office. By the time they really develop symptoms, it’s usually well advanced. Symptoms in the late stages of liver disease could be yellowness of the eyes or itching, or people may present as throwing up blood and then, rarely, they may develop cancer of the liver. Unfortunately, by the time they develop symptoms it’s usually far along in the disease.

The general recommendation is therefore, if you have a history of exposure to blood or are a baby boomer, you should be screened for hepatitis C. People who have a history of close contact with hepatitis B should be screened for hepatitis B and vaccinated.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.