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Swollen Liver – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

What is a Swollen Liver?

From the word itself, if the liver is swollen, meaning it is enlarged beyond its normal size, it is medically called hepatomegaly. First we will consider the normal anatomical orientation of the liver as well as its function. The liver is considered both the largest internal organ and gland in the body, and it includes a wide range and important functions that are very essential to the body’s homeostasis, most especially in metabolism. This organ is a reddish brown in color containing four lobes of unequal sizes. This thin organ lies in the right upper quadrant of the abdominal cavity just below the diaphragm. In addition, this organ is part of the digestive system that it just lies right to the stomach and overlies the gallbladder. Its important functions include the production of bile that is important in the emulsification of fats converting them into energy; synthesis of glucose and proteins; hormone production; detoxification of the body from drugs, medications, alcohol; and controlling the buildup of fat and cholesterol synthesis.

Swollen Liver Symptoms

Usually, the symptoms of liver enlargement are a combination of various organ systems in the body.


  • Bloating or abdominal distention and swelling
  • Bleeding gums
  • Blood in stools (it can be red, black, or tarry)
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting

Other Notable Symptoms

  • Urine discoloration
  • Feeling of fatigue
  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Joint pain
  • Body malaise
  • Hair loss
  • Menstrual abnormalities/irregular
  • Palms of the hand becomes red
  • Jaundice – this is yellowing of the skin
  • Spider angiomas – skin lesions that are red in color which are small blood vessels that are spread out in a pattern resembling a spider web.

Life-threatening Symptoms

  • Marked abdominal pain
  • A person becomes agitated
  • Change in the mental status
  • Behavioral change and exhibits the following: confusion, lethargy, delirium, hallucination and delusion
  • Difficulty in walking
  • Tachycardia (rapid heart rate)
  • Severe fatigue
  • Vomiting blood (coffee ground in color)

Swollen Liver Causes

Swollen liver can be brought about by different liver diseases and other gastrointestinal disorders that may have both direct and indirect effects to this vital organ.

Gastrointestinal Causes

Alcohol abuse

The liver works in detoxifying the body from alcohol and drugs that enters into the body. If one is alcoholic, then it means that the liver is subjected to great amounts of alcohol and it is prone to exhaustion because the liver then would have to work double or triple time to get rid of these harmful chemicals in the body. Just like a machine that stops when overworked, and so is the liver.

Diseases in the glycogen storage

These are the diseases that result from defects in the processing of glycogen within the muscles, liver, and other cells.

  • Hemochromatosis – this is the buildup of excess iron in the liver.
  • Conditions affecting the bile ducts such as inflammation or sclerosis
  • Fatty liver
  • Vital hepatitis

Other Causes

  • Autoimmune disorders affecting the liver itself can be one of the causes of live disorders
  • Congestive heart failure also affects liver function. Disorders of the heart cause decrease the blood supply to all parts of the body, including the liver. If there is less blood supply to this vital organ, then of course it would be very difficult for the liver to function to the fullest.
  • Obesity
  • Cirrhosis

Life-threatening Causes

  • Adverse reaction to drug use can be toxic to the liver
  • Infections on the blood
  • Liver cancer/metastasis
  • Injury to the liver
  • Leukemia
  • Malignancies to the lymph system
  • Reye’s syndrome – this condition can lead to a swollen liver as a result of ingesting too much aspirin or if the person is inflicted with a disorder in fatty acid oxidation. Since the liver is responsible in the synthesis of drugs and fats, too much of these substances can be harmful to the liver.

Swollen Liver Treatment

Because the liver is situated inside the abdominal cavity, it is not easy to diagnose whether or not the liver is having problems or it can be the surrounding organs. The best way to diagnose and treat a swollen liver is to conduct examination such as a thorough physical exam in which the physician palpates and feels the abdomen, estimating how far the liver has grown from below the rib cage. Additional procedures include blood tests, imaging such as CT scan or ultrasound, and liver biopsy to collect a sample of the tissue for laboratory testing.

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