Liver, one of the vital organs of the body, is located on the right side of the stomach, below the diaphragm is protected by the ribs. It plays an important role in the digestion process along with the pancreas and the intestines. Some of the main functions of the liver are detoxification, protein synthesis and production of bio-chemicals necessary for digestion. Liver helps in bile secretion, production of protein required for blood clotting, storage of glycogen, decomposition of red blood cell and amino acid production. Liver also contributes in carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism and production of hormones. Currently there is no absolute alternative to liver except for the liver dialysis which is for short term or the liver transplant.
Liver is covered by a thick capsule-like structure which has the pain receptors. Whenever the walls of the capsule are pressurized, liver pain is triggered. The pressure is cause by the swollen or enlarged, and inflamed liver. Sometimes injury may also cause inflammation that creates pressure on the liver capsules. Liver pain is felt around the upper right side of the abdomen under the lower ribs and can be characterized as a vague or dull pain. Sometimes the character and the location of the liver pain may vary. The symptoms can be different too, from person to person.
Some typical locations of liver pain:
- Abdominal pain accompanied by shoulder or back pain.
- Abdominal pain on the right side which increases while coughing and inhaling.
- Pain in the abdomen accompanied by difficulty in breathing.
- Sometimes it is a sharp stabbing pain in the abdomen.
Liver pain is very subtle but is insidious and confuses the patients. It may be tricky to recognize liver pain. Along with pain there are a few symptoms that can be noticed like paleness, yellowness of eyes, skin rashes and skin itchiness, which indicate a problem with the liver. More symptoms of a liver problem may include any of the following parameters:
- Brown blemishes and spots conspicuous anywhere on the body.
- Dark circles in the under eye region.
- Joint pains and fatigue.
- Loss of appetite and weight loss.
- Swelling of testicles.
- Bad breath and excessive sweating.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Dark colored urine and pale or grey colored stool.
- Redness in the palms and the soles accompanied by inflammation and itching.
If any of the types are matching the kind of pain you experience then you must get your blood test done as soon as possible. Below is the list of the blood tests and the image tests that you might have to get done, as advised by your physician:
- Liver Function Panel- This simply checks the functioning of liver.
- Alkaline Phosphates- This ensures the level of the Alkaline Phosphates in the bile secreting cell in the liver.
- Bilirubin- High Bilirubin levels indicates liver problem.
- Albumin- The average level ensures the good functioning of the liver.
- Ammonia- Rise in ammonia in the blood indicates malfunctioning of liver.
- Hepatitis A Test- If you are suspected with Hepatitis A, then you’ll be tested for liver functioning and the antibodies to detect the hepatitis A virus might be injected.
- Hepatitis B Test- Your blood will be tested for the antibody level to determine the effect of the Hepatitis B virus on the liver.
- Hepatitis C Test- Your blood will be checked for the presence of hepatitis C virus.
- ALT- This helps to identify liver disease or damage.
- AST- Again for liver damage.
- Liver Biopsy- Liver tissue is taken for analysis of the liver problem.
- If liver pain is associated with other symptoms then ultra sound and endoscopy are done to detect cirrhosis. This provides proper insight of the liver damage.
- Liver and Spleen Scan- This is a nuclear scan that uses radioactive material. This is an imaging test that helps diagnose various conditions like tumors, abscesses etc.
What Causes Liver Pain?
There are various diseases and liver conditions which are related to liver malfunctions and cause pain in the liver. Some of the diseases are highlighted below:
- Hepatitis- This is the inflammation of the liver, by the viruses like hepatitis A, B, ABD and C. Hepatitis has non-infectious causes too, including excessive intake of alcohol, consumption of drugs, allergic reactions, or obesity.
- Cirrhosis of Liver- Damage of liver can cause permanent scarring on the liver called cirrhosis. This can cause liver malfunctioning.
- Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis- This is a rare form of liver disease with an unknown cause; it can be identified by inflamed and scarred bile duct.
- Ascites- Due to cirrhosis, the liver leaks a fluid called Ascites, into the belly which swells and becomes distended and heavy.
- Liver Cancer- Hepatocellular carcinoma is a most commonly found liver cancer after Cirrhosis.
- Hemochromatosis- This is a condition in which too much iron accumulates in the liver which damages the liver.
- Cholangitis- If gallstone is stuck in the bile duct that drains the liver it leads to infection in the liver.
- Liver Failure- Liver failure can generally be due to severe infection, genetic disease or excessive alcohol consumption.
- Fatty Liver- This is caused due to excessive intake of alcohol and obesity. In this condition fat accumulates in the liver cells due to the retention of lipids within the cells.
Liver Pain Treatment:
Treatment of the liver pain is cause dependent. If diagnosis is done timely then the severity of the disease can be greatly reduced with the help of an appropriate treatment plan. There are medicines for certain diseases and if required then surgeries are also done to help the patient. Liver dialysis and ultimately liver transplants may also be done to save the patient. Some common treatments according to the cause are shared below:
- Hepatitis A treatment: This condition takes its own time to subside.
- Hepatitis B treatment: Hepatitis B is chronicle and generally is treated with antiviral medications.
- Liver Cancer- The treatment consists of chemotherapy and radiations. This is curable depending on the stage of cancer.
- Paracentesis: This procedure is followed in case of severe Ascites. In this the belly is swollen, causing discomfort and then a needle is inserted through the skin to drain out the fluid from the abdomen.
- ERCP- This is somewhat like endoscopy in which the liver and pancreas problem can be diagnosed and also treated at the same time. Doctors use a long and flexible tube with camera and tools on the end.