Early Warning Signs May Mean You're Developing Liver Disease

Liver disease affects about 7% of the U.S. population. Although that amounts to millions of people, its symptoms are not well known among adults. As a result, the disease often goes undetected for a long time, and later treatment can be difficult. Here are some of the earliest or most common signs something isn’t right with your liver.

You’re more fatigued than ever

Fatigue is a common symptom. | AntonioGuillem/iStock.com/Getty Images

Fatigue or exhaustion is one of the most common symptoms associated with liver disease. However, fatigue is also associated with many other illnesses, so it isn’t always obvious you could be dealing with liver damage. But any kind of extreme fatigue could be a cause for concern. Talk to your doctor if you’ve been feeling more exhausted than usual.

Next: This is the most obvious sign of liver problems. 

Your skin or eyes have turned yellowish

Eye discoloration is common. | utkamandarinka/iStock.com

Yellowed skin or eyes is one of the biggest red flags with liver disease. It relates to the liver not being able to process toxins. This creates a buildup up of something known as bilirubin in the blood, which creates a yellowish tint in your skin and eyes. It’s commonly referred to as jaundice and almost always signals a liver problem.

Next: If these appear, it may not just be from tiredness. 

Dark circles have appeared or gotten worse

Dark circles aren’t always due to tired eyes. | g-stockstudio/iStock.com

Dark circles under the eyes often signal that we’re tired. But they can also be a telling sign of something worse: Liver damage. If dark, puffy circles are the only symptom, it may be hard to nail it down as liver disease. But if you’re having any additional symptoms, such as yellowed eyes or nausea with no attributable cause, it could be a liver problem.

Next: This might not seem like a cause for concern, but it could be. 

Your breath smells bad

Talk to your doctor about bad breath. | Gpointstudio/iStock/Getty Images

Bad breath is commonly known as halitosis, but that is different from the breath associated with liver disease. Known as fetor hepaticus, bad breath from liver disease is a sign that toxins are not properly leaving your body. When the liver doesn’t function properly, toxins can build up in the lungs and create a putrid smell that you then exhale. If you notice any change in your breath, it may be something more serious than halitosis.

Next: A change in this is a good reason to see your doctor. 

Your stools are different

Stool changes can be a cause for concern. | BrianAJackson/Getty Images

One major sign of liver disease is irregular stools. This can present itself in several ways, such as constipation, a change in color of the stool, or irritable bowel syndrome. Although constipation is a common symptom of several diseases, it is a prominent sign of liver disease. And any unwarranted change in stools is always a reason to visit the doctor.

Next: You may wonder why these have developed. 

You’ve developed new allergies

Allergies can be a sign. | Manuel-F-O/iStock/Getty Images

An allergy is your body’s response to something it views as harmful. If you’re having what appear to be allergies and it isn’t allergy season, your liver could be to blame. Since a poor functioning liver has trouble removing toxins from the blood, your body views the toxins as harmful substances. This sends your immune system into overdrive and causes an allergic reaction. But since you are unaware you have liver disease, you appear to have allergies for no reason.

Next: This type of vein might appear out of nowhere. 

You have ‘spider veins’

“Spider veins” can be a sign. | AntonioGuillem/iStock/Getty Images

Spider veins, known as spider angiomas, are often not a cause for concern. This makes them easy to overlook as a sign of liver disease. But chronic liver disease can increase the amount of estrogen in your system, which causes flare ups of these veins. It is a more common symptom in people whose liver disease stems from alcohol.

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

You’ve noticed unusual bruises or bleeds

Bruises are a frequent sign.| m-gucci/iStock.com/Getty Images

Unusual bruising or bleeds that don’t clot well are both signs your liver may be damaged. That’s because when the liver is having a hard time functioning, it slows platelet production; platelets are necessary for proper clotting. This results in bruises developing more easily and cuts taking a while longer to clot. Plus, people with liver disease are more likely to develop a blood disorder, which can also cause issues with bruising and clotting.

Next: Too much of this might be attributed to liver problems. 

You’re sweating a lot

If you’re sweating more than usual, see your doctor. | Minerva Studio/iStock/Getty Images

Excessive sweating is another external sign that your liver could be in trouble. When the liver is damaged, it works harder to keep up with you. This results in the liver generating a lot of heat, which can raise your internal temperature. Your body begins to sweat more as a way of cooling itself down. If you’ve noticed you’re sweatier than usual, even when you’re not doing any exhausting activities, liver damage could be to blame.

Next: You might often associate this with something else, but it could be due to liver disease. 

You’ve become easily confused or forgetful

Confusion can be a sign of liver disease. | studiograndquest/iStock.com

If you were once sharp as a nail and now feel more confused or can’t remember much, liver disease could be the cause. While you might associate confusion or forgetfulness with dementia, something known as liver encephalopathy may be responsible. This happens when the liver stops filtering blood normally, allowing toxins to build up in your system and travel to the brain. These toxins can cause mood changes, forgetfulness, and confusion.

Next: Your body seems ‘bigger’ than usual. 

Your body has swelled

Swollen feet and ankles are a cause for concern. | Sasha_Suzi/iStock/Getty Images

When your liver isn’t working properly, you tend to retain fluids. Specifically, your feet and ankles will likely swell. This is because the liver can’t regulate circulatory processes properly when it’s struggling, so fluid builds up in the lower parts of your body (since this is where fluid would naturally build due to gravity). If you notice swelling in the lower limbs, talk to your doctor right away.

Next: In males, this could be a sign. 

In males, erectile dysfunction has become an issue

Erectile dysfunction can be a telling sign.| Kuzmichstudio/iStock.com

It may sound odd, but erectile dysfunction can be a sign of liver disease. When the liver can’t function properly, it messes with the regulation of the body’s hormones. This can directly affect a male’s ability to have sex. Erectile dysfunction is common in older men, but if you’re experiencing it at a fairly young age, it could be a sign of a bigger problem.

Next: This accompanies many diseases, including liver disease. 

Your stomach hasn’t been feeling great

If you’ve been nauseous, see your doctor. | PRImageFactory/iStock.com

This sign is typically a more advanced sign of liver disease but can still show up at any time. As liver disease progresses, you may lose your appetite and start losing weight quickly. Those with this symptom will not only have no appetite but also feel very nauseous. Nausea is an underlying symptom of many illnesses, so talk to your doctor regardless of whether you believe it could be liver-related.

Next: This odd symptom is often brushed off as nothing. 

You’re itchier than usual

Itching is a common sign. | Tharakorn/iStock.com

If you feel like you’ve been scratching nonstop but can’t pinpoint a rash or any other cause, it could be a sign of liver disease. When the liver has trouble functioning, bile deposits can build up in the skin instead of being filtered out. This creates an itchy reaction on the skin. It can result in irritation, especially since it won’t stop until the liver disease is diagnosed. You may have other symptoms of liver disease before this symptom develops.

Next: In 50% of cases, this happens. 

Sometimes, there are no signs

Sometimes, no signs are present. | MangoStar_Studio/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Oddly enough, about half of all cases of liver damage yield zero early symptoms. This is why liver damage can be so debilitating; by the time it is 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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