Never Ignore These Early Warning Signs of Liver Disease

Liver disease affects about 7% of Americans, but many adults miss the symptoms. The disease can go undetected for a long time, which can make treatment difficult. Here are the prevalent signs something isn’t right with your liver. Can you identify the most commonly overlooked symptom (page 10)?

1. Itchiness

Woman scratching her arm
Itching is a common sign. | Tharakorn/iStock.com
  • Cause: When the liver isn’t working, bile can build up in the skin instead of being filtered out.

Are you scratching nonstop but can’t find a cause? It could be liver disease, and unfortunately, the itchiness won’t stop until you treat the main condition. This symptom often occurs after other signs have developed.

Next: An embarrassing social faux pas

2. Bad breath

Doctor and patient
Talk to your doctor about bad breath. | Gpointstudio/iStock/Getty Images
  • Cause: When toxins build up in the lungs, it creates a putrid smell you exhale.

Bad breath known as halitosis is different from breath linked with liver disease. Called fetor hepaticus, this kind of breath indicates that your liver isn’t filtering toxins out of your lungs.

Next: The springtime isn’t the only one to blame for this symptom.

3. New allergies

sick woman sneezing at the airport
Allergies can be a sign. | Manuel-F-O/iStock/Getty Images
  • Cause: When the liver has trouble removing toxins from the blood, your immune system goes into overdrive, causing an allergic reaction

An allergy is your body’s response to something it views as harmful. If you have allergies and it isn’t allergy season, your liver could be to blame.

Next: This scary vein appears out of nowhere. 

4. Spider veins

Woman stretching her legs out with tights
“Spider veins” can be a sign. | AntonioGuillem/iStock/Getty Images
  • Cause: Chronic liver disease increases the estrogen in your system, which causes flare-ups of these veins.

Known as spider angiomas, spider veins aren’t usually concerning. This makes them easy to overlook as a sign of liver disease. Still, it’s a common symptom of those with liver disease stemming from alcohol abuse.

Next: An increase in these could be caused by liver damage. 

5. Unusual bruises or bleeds

jogging injury
Bruises are a frequent sign.| m-gucci/iStock.com/Getty Images
  • Cause: When the liver is struggling, it slows platelet production, which is necessary for proper clotting. 

Unusual bruising or bleeds that don’t clot well are signs of liver damage. Plus, people with liver disease are more likely to develop a blood disorder, which can cause issues with bruising and clotting.

Next: Are you misplacing things or forgetting plans?

6. Confusion or forgetfulness

doubt and worry concept
Confusion can be a sign of liver disease. | studiograndquest/iStock.com
  • Cause: Liver encephalopathy causes built-up toxins to travel to the brain, causing mood changes, forgetfulness, and confusion.

Most people associate confusion or forgetfulness with dementia. However, if you were once sharp as a tack and now can’t remember much, you could have liver encephalopathy. 

Next: A “private” concern you need to share with your doctor.

7. Unusual stools

Bathroom
Stool changes can be a cause for concern. | BrianAJackson/Getty Images
  • Cause: A major sign of liver disease is irregular stools, presenting as constipation, a change in color, or irritable bowel syndrome.

Constipation is a common symptom of many diseases, but it’s a big sign of liver disease. Any change in stools is a good reason to visit the doctor.

Next: Is this area of your body turning colors?

8. Worsening dark circles

young man massaging his nose and keeping eyes closed
Dark circles aren’t always due to tired eyes. | g-stockstudio/iStock.com
  • Cause: Dark undereye circles plus other eye issues can indicate liver disease.

Dark circles under the eyes often signal tiredness. But they can also be a sign of liver damage. If dark, puffy circles are the only symptom, it may not be liver disease. But if you have additional symptoms, like yellowed eyes or nausea with no attributable cause, it could be a liver problem.

Next: A body part you don’t want to be squishy

9. Swelling

Female feet standing on acupressure mat
Swollen feet and ankles are a cause for concern. | Sasha_Suzi/iStock/Getty Images
  • Cause: A struggling liver can’t regulate circulatory processes well, so fluid naturally builds up in the lower body (due to gravity).

When your liver isn’t working properly, you tend to retain fluids, specifically in your feet and ankles. If you notice swelling in the lower limbs, talk to your doctor right away.

Next: This accompanies many diseases, including liver disease. 

10. Nausea and lack of appetite

Doctor Using Ultrasound Scan On Abdomen Of Senior Male Patient
After experiencing a symptom like extreme nausea, a patient may need an ultrasound to detect liver issues. | AndreyPopov/Getty Images
  • Cause: As liver disease progresses, you may lose your appetite and your weight quickly.

This is typically a more advanced sign of liver disease but it can still appear any time. You’ll not only lack an appetite but also feel nauseous. Nausea is a symptom of many illnesses, so talk to your doctor regardless.

Next: Are you seeing yellow everywhere?

11. Yellow skin or eyes

Eye woman eyebrow eyes lashes
Eye discoloration is common. | utkamandarinka/iStock.com
  • Cause: A struggling liver creates a buildup of bilirubin in the blood, which creates a yellowish tint in your skin and eyes.

Commonly referred to as jaundice, yellowed skin or eyes is one of the biggest red flags with liver disease.

Next: A gross problem, especially in public

12. Excessive sweating

Businessman sweating in his office
If you’re sweating more than usual, see your doctor. | Minerva Studio/iStock/Getty Images
  • Cause: A damaged liver has to work hard to keep up. This generates a lot of heat, which can raise your internal temperature.

Your body sweats more as a way of cooling itself down. If you notice you’re sweatier than usual, even when you’re not doing exhausting activities, liver damage could be to blame.

Next: Another odd bathroom issue

13. Urine changes

Woman sitting on toilet.
An excess of bilirubin may cause changes in your urine. | iStock.com/vadimguzhva
  • Cause: Liver disease increases the bilirubin in your bloodstream. This would normally be excreted in your urine via the kidneys.

A healthy liver is responsible for filtering your blood and urine. If your urine is consistently darker and even possibly pungent, call your doctor.

Next: This common symptom can be a sign of many ailments.

14. Fatigue

Tired overworked freelancer working with a laptop
Fatigue is a common symptom. | AntonioGuillem/iStock.com/Getty Images
  • Cause: Fatigue or exhaustion is one of the most common symptoms associated with liver disease.

Fatigue is associated with many other illnesses, so it isn’t always obvious you’re dealing with liver damage. But any kind of extreme fatigue could be a cause for concern.

Next: In males, this could be a sign. 

15. Erectile dysfunction

Couple man and woman lay cuddling on the bed
Erectile dysfunction can be a telling sign.| Kuzmichstudio/iStock.com
  • Cause: A hurting liver messes with the regulation of hormones. This can directly affect a male’s ability to have sex.

It may sound odd, but erectile dysfunction is a sign of liver disease. Erectile dysfunction is common in older men, but if you encounter it at a fairly young age, there could be a bigger problem.

Next: In 50% of cases, this happens. 

16. Sometimes, there are no signs

happy woman waking up
Sometimes, no signs are present. | MangoStar_Studio/iStock/Getty Images Plus
  • About half of all cases of liver damage yield zero early signs. By the time it’s diagnosed, the liver could be severely damaged.

The longer one waits to get treatment, the more serious the problem could be. Some people also overlook symptoms such as tiredness or fatigue, and they assume they have no symptoms. If there is any change in your body (even fatigue) that lasts more than a few days, it’s best to talk to your doctor.

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