Signs and Symptoms of Liver Disease

Early signs of liver disease often include general gastrointestinal complaints that commonly are associated with many other conditions. In some cases, early liver disease symptoms are not noticeable.

General symptoms of liver disease include the following:

  • Abdominal pain (located on the right side of the body, beneath the ribs)
  • Abnormal stools
  • Flu-like symptoms (e.g., fatigue, nausea, vomiting, muscle or joint pain, fever)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swelling of abdomen and/or legs

Symptoms that are more specific to liver problems include the following:

  • Bleeding and bruising more easily
  • Dark urine
  • Jaundie (i.e., yellowing of skin/eyes)
  • Sensitivity to medications (e.g., experiencing stronger side effects)

Liver disease may cause toxins that are normally filtered out of the blood by the liver to accumulate in the brain, leading to the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory loss
  • Mental confusion
  • Sleep disturbances

When normal liver function decreases, the following complications can occur:

  • Decreased mental function, severe mental confusion, coma
  • Erectile dysfunction (impotence)
  • Immune system impairment, increasing the risk for infections
  • Insulin resistance that can develop into type 2 diabetes
  • Kidney dysfunction and kidney failure
  • Osteoporosis (bone loss)
  • Severe jaundice
  • Severe itching
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Weakness, muscle loss

Complications of liver disease can be serious and life threatening. Portal hypertension (i.e., high blood pressure in the vein leading into the liver from the digestive tract) is a serious complication. This condition can damage blood vessels in other parts of the digestive system, causing the vessels to back up, weaken, and leak (called varices). Portal hypertension also can cause painful swelling in the abdomen (called ascites). This swelling can hinder breathing and lead to abdominal infection.

Liver disease also increases the risk for liver cancer (hepatobiliary cancer) and several different cancers of the lymph nodes.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 16 Mar 2008

Last Modified: 24 Sep 2015