Liver Disease Symptoms (Causes & Prevention)

There are many kinds of liver diseases and conditions. Some, like hepatitis, are caused by viruses. Others can be the result of drugs or drinking too much alcohol. Long-lasting injury or scar tissue in the liver can cause cirrhosis. Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin, can be one sign of liver disease.

Liver Disease

The liver has many important functions, including digesting your food and processing and distributing nutrients. There are many kinds of liver diseases and conditions. Some, like hepatitis, are caused by viruses. Others can be the result of drugs or drinking too much alcohol. Long-lasting injury or scar tissue in the liver can cause cirrhosis. Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin, can be one sign of liver disease.

Liver disease causes

Liver disease has many causes.


Parasites and viruses can infect the liver, causing inflammation that reduces liver function. The viruses that cause liver damage can be spread through blood or semen, contaminated food or water, or close contact with a person who is infected. The most common types of liver infection are hepatitis viruses, including:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C

Immune system abnormality

Diseases in which your immune system attacks certain parts of your body (autoimmune) can affect your liver. Examples of autoimmune liver diseases include:

  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Primary biliary cholangitis
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis


An abnormal gene inherited from one or both of your parents can cause various substances to build up in your liver, resulting in liver damage. Genetic liver diseases include:

  • Hemochromatosis
  • Wilson’s disease
  • Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency

Cancer and other growths

Examples include:

  • Liver cancer
  • Bile duct cancer
  • Liver adenoma

Other causes

Additional, common causes of liver disease include:

  • Chronic alcohol abuse
  • Fat accumulation in the liver (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease)
  • Certain prescription or over-the-counter medications
  • Certain herbal compounds

How long does it take for your liver to heal?

Healing can begin within the first few days after drinking stops. Depending on the severity of the damage, complete healing can take weeks or months.

However, not all damage is reversible. If liver damage is extensive and has been long-term, it might not be possible to reverse all of it. Your doctor will discuss the extent of your liver damage, and how much of it can heal, with you.

Do liver ‘detox’ drinks work?

You might have seen liver “detox” drinks advertised or sitting on store shelves. These could look like a good idea, but there’s no evidence these drinks do anything to help your liver. Your liver detoxes and heals itself. You don’t need to spend money on detox products. However, there are some steps you can take to help your liver as it heals.

What does the liver do?

Your liver is responsible for more than 500 essential body functions, including regulating chemical levels and processing substances in your blood so that your body can use them appropriately. Other important functions of the liver include:

  • producing bile, blood proteins, and cholesterol
  • converting poisonous ammonia to urea that your body can pass through your urine
  • processing hemoglobin so that your body can use it as iron
  • storing iron
  • clearing medications, drugs, toxins, and other poisonous substances from the blood
  • controlling blood clotting
  • making immune factors
  • removing bacteria from the bloodstream and bilirubin from blood cells

What is liver disease?

Liver disease refers to several different conditions that cause harm to your liver. Liver disease can progress with time and lead to liver scarring, called cirrhosis. If scar tissue replaces enough healthy liver tissue, your liver will not function as it should. It is important to get treatment for liver disease to avoid liver failure.

There are multiple types of liver disease, including:

  • Hepatitis: It creates liver swelling. An infection causes hepatitis types A, B, and C.
  • Autoimmune hepatitis: It also creates liver swelling, but infection does not cause it. Instead, it occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your liver, causing inflammation.
  • Liver cancer: It involves tumor growth on the liver.
  • Fatty liver disease: It occurs when fat builds around the liver. Sometimes, heavy alcohol use causes this. But it’s possible to develop fatty liver even if you don’t drink alcohol.
  • Wilson’s disease: It involves too much copper building up in your liver.
  • Hemochromatosis: It involves too much iron building up in your liver.

Woman early symptoms of liver disease

  • generally feeling unwell and tired all the time
  • loss of appetite
  • loss of weight and muscle wasting
  • feeling sick (nausea) and vomiting
  • tenderness/pain in the liver area
  • spider-like small blood capillaries on the skin above waist level (spider angiomas)
  • blotchy red palms
  • disturbed sleep patterns

Later symptoms, as the liver is struggling to function

  • intensely itchy skin
  • yellowing of the whites of the eyes and the skin (jaundice)
  • white nails
  • ends of fingers become wider/thicker (clubbed fingers)
  • hair loss
  • swelling of the legs, ankles, feet (oedema)
  • swelling of the abdomen (ascites)
  • dark urine
  • pale-coloured stools or very dark/black tarry stools
  • frequent nosebleeds and bleeding gums
  • easy bruising and difficulty in stopping small bleeds
  • vomiting blood
  • frequent muscle cramps
  • right shoulder pain
  • in men: enlarged breasts and shrunken testes
  • in women: irregular or lack of menstrual periods
  • impotence and loss of sexual desire
  • dizziness and extreme fatigue (anaemia)
  • shortness of breath
  • very rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • fevers with high temperature and shivers
  • forgetfulness, memory loss, confusion and drowsiness
  • subtle change in personality
  • trembling hands
  • writing becomes difficult, spidery and small
  • staggering gait when walking; tendency to fall
  • increased sensitivity to drugs, both medical and recreational
  • increased sensitivity to alcohol

Red flag symptoms of liver disease

If you have any of the following symptoms you must see a doctor straight away, especially if you have recently been diagnosed with cirrhosis:

  • fever with high temperatures and shivers, often caused by an infection
  • shortness of breath
  • vomiting blood
  • very dark or black tarry stools (faeces)
  • periods of mental confusion or drowsiness.

Although these symptoms may seem very different, because your liver is responsible for so many different functions, if it stops working properly, a range of problems can result.

What’s the outlook for people who have liver disease?

The liver can regenerate and heal, and doctors can cure many liver diseases or manage them if you get early treatment. However, liver disease is serious. Getting treatment as soon as possible can help you prevent permanent damage.

It’s important to get regular check-ups and liver panels to keep an eye on your liver health. That can help doctors detect potential liver disease early and provide treatment right away.

Liver disease prevention

To prevent liver disease:

  • Drink alcohol in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. Heavy or high-risk drinking is defined as more than eight drinks a week for women and more than 15 drinks a week for men.
  • Avoid risky behavior. Use a condom during sex. If you choose to have tattoos or body piercings, be picky about cleanliness and safety when selecting a shop. Seek help if you use illicit intravenous drugs, and don’t share needles to inject drugs.
  • Get vaccinated. If you’re at increased risk of contracting hepatitis or if you’ve already been infected with any form of the hepatitis virus, talk to your doctor about getting the hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines.
  • Use medications wisely. Take prescription and nonprescription drugs only when needed and only in recommended doses. Don’t mix medications and alcohol. Talk to your doctor before mixing herbal supplements or prescription or nonprescription drugs.
  • Avoid contact with other people’s blood and body fluids. Hepatitis viruses can be spread by accidental needle sticks or improper cleanup of blood or body fluids.
  • Keep your food safe. Wash your hands thoroughly before eating or preparing foods. If traveling in a developing country, use bottled water to drink, wash your hands and brush your teeth.
  • Take care with aerosol sprays. Make sure to use these products in a well-ventilated area, and wear a mask when spraying insecticides, fungicides, paint and other toxic chemicals. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Protect your skin. When using insecticides and other toxic chemicals, wear gloves, long sleeves, a hat and a mask so that chemicals aren’t absorbed through your skin.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity can cause nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.


You can learn more about liver healing by reading the answers to some common questions below.

Can you prevent liver disease?

Not all liver disease can be preventable, but you can take these steps to reduce your risk:

  • Limit or avoid alcohol intake, red meat, trans fat, and high fructose corn syrup.
  • Get plenty of exercise.
  • Be careful with your medication intake, including over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen.
  • Use a barrier method during sexual activity, if possible.

What are the symptoms of liver disease?

The exact symptoms of liver disease depend on the specific liver disease you have. For instance, fatty liver disease sometimes has no symptoms at all. However, there are some symptoms that are common among multiple liver diseases. These include:

  • tight-sided stomach pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • jaundice
  • fatigue
  • easy bruising
  • swollen arms and legs
  • changes to your stool and urine color

Can any other organs or body regenerate?

Your liver is the part of your body with the greatest ability to heal and regenerate, but it’s not the only one. Other parts of your body that can regenerate include:

  • intestine linings
  • brain cells and connections
  • cornea layers
  • skin cells
  • bones after they break

Bottom line

Getting liver disease treatment can prevent liver failure and even death. Additionally, it’s possible to reverse many cases of liver damage. In many cases, your liver can regenerate and heal after just a few months. As your liver heals, you’ll start to feel positive health effects throughout your body, including increased energy, better mental clarity, improved digestion, better skin health, and more. The sooner you manage your liver disease and take steps to heal your liver, the more your likelihood of reversing liver damage can improve.

Also Read: How to Detox your Liver