Is An Enlarged Liver a Serious Condition?
Liver is a vital organ in the human body that has several functions including digestion of food, production of proteins and hormones, breakdown of medications and toxins, storage of sugar in the form of glycogen, fighting off infection and many more. Any infection or medical condition can cause liver swelling known as liver enlargement or hepatomegaly. Liver enlargement is not a disease, but a symptom of several other conditions or diseases in the body affecting liver. Liver enlargement could be mild, moderate or severe depending on the infection or disease including an infection, toxin poisoning, genetic disease, certain medication, cancer or heart and blood vessel abnormality. The severity or seriousness of liver enlargement depends totally on the underlying condition. If the underlying cause is minor then liver enlargement is not considered serious, but if the underlying condition is severe then the enlargement associated with it could be serious.
What Are The Associated Signs and Symptoms?
Liver enlargement is a sign of liver disease and there are other associated signs and symptoms of liver disease along with liver enlargement based on the underlying cause. These include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, muscle pain, jaundice, poor appetite, swelling of extremities, easy bruising, weight loss and swelling of abdomen. A person should call emergency if she/he has severe abdominal pain, fever, jaundice, hematemesis, shortness of breath and black, tarry stools or bright red blood in stools.
What Are The Causes of Hepatomegaly?
Enlarged liver is a sign that the liver is not functioning properly and common causes or conditions that lead to liver enlargement include liver cirrhosis, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), alcoholic liver disease, metastatic cancer, liver cancer, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and congestive heart failure. Other less common causes include lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma, hemochromatosis, Wilson’s disease, Gaucher’s disease, toxic hepatitis and bile duct or gall bladder obstruction.
There are certain risk factors for liver enlargement and these include autoimmune diseases, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic liver disease, liver cancers, obesity, sickle cell disease, cysts and tumors of liver. There are certain lifestyle factors that can also put an individual at a greater risk of developing liver enlargement and those include excessive alcohol consumption, tattoos, blood transfusions, and unprotected sex, which put an individual at a greater risk for HIV and hepatitis B and C infection. People who travel to foreign countries are associated with risks for malaria and liver enlargement. Individuals taking herbs like comfrey and mistletoe may also develop liver enlargement. Certain prescription drugs are also likely to cause liver enlargement and one should talk to his/her doctor about complete medical history before being prescribed any medication or in fact taking any over the counter medications.
How is Liver Enlargement Diagnosed?
Liver enlargement is diagnosed on the basis of complete medical history as well as physical examination. Liver enlargement is likely to be diagnosed on physical exam, but the doctor will order more tests to confirm the diagnosis as well as to find out the cause of liver enlargement. These include complete blood count and liver function tests to find out whether liver is functioning properly or not. Imaging includes abdominal X-ray, computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound of the abdomen. A liver biopsy can also be ordered based on the results and seriousness of the condition.
What Is The Treatment For Hepatomegaly?
The treatment of enlarged liver depends totally on the underlying cause of liver enlargement. For example, infections like hepatitis C will be treated with medications, liver cancer will be treated with chemotherapy, surgery or radiation, and liver failure/damage will be treated with liver transplant and so on. A doctor will also recommend lifestyle changes along with the treatment options. These lifestyle changes include complete abstinence from alcohol, losing weight if one is overweight, adopting a healthy diet and engaging in a regular exercise regimen. Along with these changes, the doctors will also advice rest and hydration.
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