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Signs Your Liver is in Big Trouble

If any (or all) of these signs sound familiar, it might be time to visit your doctor.


By Alyssa Jung, Reader's Digest

Your eyes turn yellow

“Yellow eyes are a sign your liver isn’t doing very well and is probably the most specific sign of liver disease,” says KV Narayanan Menon, MD, medical director of liver transplantation at Cleveland Clinic. A yellow colored substance called bilirubin is usually broken down by the liver so it can be removed from the body, but when the liver is struggling it can cause bilirubin to build up, leading to yellowing of the whites of the eyes.


Your belly fills with fluid

If your belly suddenly balloons and doesn’t stop, it could be more than ordinary bloating. “Increased pressure within the blood vessels around the liver can lead to fluid buildup in the abdomen,” says Dr. Menon. It’s important to see a doctor, who will be able to tell you if you’re bloated from gas, food, or fluid.


You have Hepatitis A, B, or C

When viruses or parasites infect the liver, it causes inflammation and reduced liver function. The most common types of liver infection are the hepatitis viruses; A is spread by coming into contact with a contaminated person’s feces or by ingesting compromised food and drink, while B and C are most commonly transmitted through blood, sex, or contact with other bodily fluids. “There are some really good treatments out there if you have hepatitis C, so people should get tested,” says Dr. Menon. Talk to your doctor about what other steps you can take to keep your liver as healthy as possible.


You can’t stop itching

Believe it or not, a sick liver can cause itching all over your body. “We don’t know for sure, but it’s thought to be related to bile salt,” says Dr. Menon. Bile is a digestive substance produced by the liver, but in people with primary biliary cirrhosis (an autoimmune liver disease that causes the bile duct to collapse), that bile can accumulate and cause noticeable symptoms, like itching. 


You’re constantly tired

Persistent fatigue is almost always a sign that something’s not right in your body. Liver disease can cause this.


You’re a heavy drinker

Excessive, chronic alcohol use can do a real number on your liver over time, eventually leading to liver disease. The liver helps rid your body of chemicals and toxins, so consistently pumping it full of booze means it’s working overtime.


You’re overweight

Being overweight or obese affects more than how you look in the mirror. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is on the rise, especially in people in their 40s and 50s, and basically means fat has built up on and around the organ. Sometimes, this leads to cirrhosis, which is scarring of the liver. The good news is, you can manage or change the factors that up your risk of developing the disease, such as obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes.


You have family history of liver disease

“A small class of liver diseases are hereditary, so if you think there have been family members who died of liver disease or liver cancer, bring it up to your doctor so they can look into it further,” says Dr. Menon.


You’re confused or forgetful

While a little forgetfulness is actually a good thing, if you suddenly seem to misplace everything or feel easily confused, don’t write it off as a harmless brain fart. Hepatic encephalopathy is a condition that can occur when the liver is unable to properly remove toxins from the body and typically occurs in patients with chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, or hepatitis. If you notice these symptoms, see a doctor immediately.
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