The liver is a vital organ that plays many important roles in the body. It is the largest gland in the human body and is responsible for several critical functions necessary for survival such as producing and breaking down hormone, producing amino acids and detoxifying toxic substances. The liver is triangular shaped, reddish brown in color, and weighs approximately 1½ kilograms. This large internal organ is located at the right upper quadrant of the abdomen, just below the right diaphragm. It lies to the right of the stomach, overlying the gallbladder.
The liver plays many vital roles to maintain health and prevent disease, such as:
When liver pain symptoms are experienced, one must seek medical consultation for proper diagnosis and treatment.
The liver is covered by a thick capsule where many pain receptors lie. Pressure against this capsule is felt as liver pain, and this can occur when the liver is swollen or enlarged, when there is acute inflammation in the organ or any injury that causes an increase in pressure on the liver capsule. Liver pain is often felt in the upper right side of the abdomen under the lower ribs and may be characterized as a vague or dull pain.
It is often difficult to identify liver pain because it may occur as a dull aching pain that is experienced in the abdomen, often times in the upper right side. However, sometimes the character and location of the pain may vary, and the accompanying symptoms may be different from one person to another. Variations in liver pain include:
It may be difficult to identify or distinguish liver from other types of abdominal pain because it is often subtle and insidious. Many people ignore initial liver pain symptoms until the pain is severe or other symptoms appear, such as:
Pain in the upper right side of the abdomen may be caused by conditions that affect the liver itself. The pain may be referred or felt as pain in the right shoulder. This type of liver pain may be due to:
Some conditions outside the liver can irritate or increase the pressure on the liver, causing liver pain symptoms, and these include:
Most cases of liver pain related to liver disease are serious and life threatening. Some of these diseases have similar symptoms, such as liver pain, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), fatigue, loss of appetite, and unexplained weight loss. Immediate diagnosis and treatment should be done, because the liver is a vital organ, and disruption in its function may be serious and potentially fatal. Blood tests, liver function evaluation, and imaging studies may be necessary to make a proper diagnosis. In some cases, such as liver cancer, a liver biopsy may have to be taken.
The treatment of liver pain depends on the specific cause. Some conditions like chronic hepatitis, fatty liver disease, and infections need medical treatment consisting of appropriate drugs. In some cases, such as localized liver cancer, surgery might be considered. In serious, life-threatening cases, a liver transplant may help.
Increase your intake of water if you experience liver pain after waking up in the morning or your pain becomes worse after a heavy meal. Stay away from fatty foods for a few days and maintain a right posture to avoid putting pressure on your liver. Go talk to your doctor if the pain persists after taking homecare measures. Seek immediate medical attention in case you also experience dizziness, nausea, or hallucinations.
What causes liver pain will help determine the best treatment option. Your diet plays a role as well. Healthy eating can help provide your liver with nutrients it needs to repair itself. Insufficient protein may be the cause of liver pain in many cases and increasing your intake of protein can resolve the issue. In addition, you should take steps to lower your cholesterol and control your weight. By making simple tweaks to your lifestyle and diet, you can even manage non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in a much better way.
Many people take acetaminophen or other OTC painkillers to treat their liver pain. Avoid it! The reason is that taking acetaminophen will make your liver work even harder, which is only going to worsen your pain. If you have a liver condition, be sure to take whatever medications your doctor has prescribed. There are many antiviral drugs available now to help treat chronic conditions – some good options include adefovir and lamivudine. Also, you may have to complete several courses of an antiviral drug called Harvoni to deal with hepatitis C.
Talk to your doctor about how to manage liver pain caused by liver cancer. Depending on the type of cancer, you may have to work closely with an oncologist to manage your condition in a better way. Keep in mind that in most cases, any damage done to the liver from acetaminophen, hepatitis, alcohol, or cancer is irreversible. If that is the case with you, a liver transplant may well be the only treatment option.